How to Use FaceTime For Mac to Chat with Friends & Family

For years Mac users have been using Mac OS X’s integrated chat software iChat to video chat with friends and family that have Macs as well, or Skype to video chat across platforms. Now, with Apple’s FaceTime for Mac, you can video chat from your Mac with friends or family members like never before… while they’re on the move! Apple first introduced FaceTime as a way for people with iPhone’s and iPod Touches to video chat with each other from anywhere they had a WiFi connection. Now though, Apple has introduced FaceTime for Mac, allowing for the first time for us to video chat from Mac to iPhone or iPod and back.  So how is the software, and how do we use it?  You won’t be surprised to learn that, like most things Apple, it is not too difficult, but may also be surprised at how cumbersome this beta software can be. Don’t worry though, because I’m going to walk you through it, step by step!

Getting FaceTime for Mac

This part’s easy! Just head over to http://www.apple.com/mac/facetime/ and hit the “Download the Beta” button. The download is almost 150MB, so set aside a few minutes (or hours if you have a slower connection), but the software is free, so no complaining! This though brings me to my next point, this software is in beta. I’ve been using it for over a month now and haven’t run into any serious bugs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t. You just have to keep in mind that you are using a beta product. Also be aware that FaceTime for Mac requires OS X Snow Leopard, so don’t even try installing without it, because it won’t work. Once the download is complete and the software is installed, launch FaceTime and we’re off to the races!

Creating Your FaceTime Account

The first time you launch FaceTime, you’ll be asked to create a FaceTime account. This basically just means setting up an account associated with whatever your most frequently used email address is. This way, when people try to add you, they won’t have a difficult time. You’ll assign a password to your account, or use your iTunes account information (or Apple ID) and FaceTime will import its contact list from your Mac’s Address Book.

facetime-account-window

Using FaceTime

The first thing you likely want to do is add the contact you think you’ll FaceTime most frequently to your Favorites list. This is accomplished by simply clicking the “+” sign in the top right corner of the below window, and then clicking their name.

facetime-favorites-home-screen

Now that you’ve got a few contacts added to your Favorites, simply clicking one will call them. You can tell if someone is available for FaceTime by the camera indicator next to their name. The question mark means they may or may not be available, but the blank camera means they are. Click a name, and a FaceTime call is started! This means you can call people with Mac’s or iPod’s by having their FaceTime account-associated email in your contacts, or call them on their iPhone by having their mobile phone number in your book.  Pretty handy if you know a lot of people with FaceTime!

Once you’re in a call, the default view looks like this:

facetime-chat-window

Just like in Skype, your picture is minimized to the bottom of the window, and your friend is the main window, making it very natural to focus on the person you’re talking to! Also take note of the menu at the top. Under Video you’ll find a few interesting perks. First is the Enter Full Screen option, giving you a much more focused, even theatre-like, experience.

facetime-full-screen

This menu also offers options for switching to Landscape mode, using different microphones than that which is set to default, and muting your FaceTime call so they can’t hear what you’re saying, just like on a normal telephone or cell phone.

facetime-video-menu

Wrap-Up

Actually using FaceTime for Mac is as simple as most other operations are on a Mac. The layout is simple, clean, and beautiful, and it works quite well. The downsides? In my opinion, the biggest would be that the uninitiated user would see no extremely obvious place that the contacts come from, nor would they see an obvious way to start a call with a contact. If Apple can keep the layout simple, as well as expand the user base, FaceTime for both Mac’s and all other Apple products could become a popular form of communication. Until then though, it will likely continue to be something that enthusiasts are in to more than anyone.

What do you think of FaceTime? Do you wish it were more like Skype? Where is Skype with a cross-platform (including mobiles) app anyway? Tell us what you think in the comments!