Long past time to open FaceTime

Among the off-the-cuff potshots at Apple in this week’s Java Posse, there was a quality point: Apple still hasn’t opened up the FaceTime standard.

Make no doubt about it, Apple very clearly said they were going to do this. Steve Jobs himself said so at WWDC 2010, around 1:36:45 on the video:

Now FaceTime is based on a lot of open standards: H.264 video, AAC audio, and a bunch of alphabet soup acronyms. And we’re going to take it all away. We’re going to the standards bodies, starting tomorrow, and we’re going to make FaceTime an open industry standard.

“Starting tomorrow”? Nearly a year later, there’s no indication this process has started. The Wikipedia page on FaceTime says no draft has yet been published with any of the various standards bodies. Moreover, the Mac and iOS versions use a client-side certificate as part of their authentication, meaning that a third-party implementation wouldn’t be able to connect to the network of Apple FaceTime clients anyways.

For what it’s worth, I’ve filed a documentation bug against this, rdar://9407759 , duped to Open Radar. Don’t hold your breath of course… I filed rdar://4411484 in January, 2006 asking for the Enhanced Podcast format to be publicly documented… it was closed with a “thanks for your feedback” comment in March, 2007.

Whatever the holdup is, I’m not convinced it’s intentional, or permanent. Researching this, I found one of the only references to “FaceTime” in Apple’s documentation is for the iOS Core Audio AUVoiceProcessingIO audio unit, which is used for VoIP and in-game chat. The kVoiceIOFarEndAUVersion_ThirdParty parameter has the following documentation:

Set the farEndAUVersion field of the VoiceIOFarEndVersionInfo struct to this value if the remote end is a 3rd-party device following open FaceTime standards.

Moreover, it was added in iOS 4.2, which came out in November, 2010. So up to at least that date, third-party FaceTime clients were being planned for.

And if we can continue our Apple Kremlinology just a little further. There’s something I’ve noticed missing on the coreaudio-api list recently: the Apple engineers. They’re usually very generous with their time and assistance, which makes coreaudio-api absolutely essential reading for anyone using the API. But look at the hit counts for our favorite engineers, William Stewart (creator of CA) and Doug Wyatt:

Bill, 2010: 1,120 hits
Bill, 2011: 5 hits
Doug, 2010: 333 hits
Doug, 2011: 2 hits

When Apple engineers go missing on the lead-up to WWDC, it usually means they’re up to something. And this has been a long outage… what the heck are they working on?

Comments (6)

  1. I don’t kwow what exactly Apple is up to with FaceTime, but why don’t they simply start with making an Android App themselves? Google has apps on iPhone, they don’t lure people to Android, I guess. Especially now Skype is taken over by the evil empire, it would make sense to proliferate thye use of FaceTime as much as possible.

  2. FWIW, my bug was closed as a duplicate of 8360380

  3. I did some checking on the technicalities of FaceTime, and it’s very simple. FaceTime as implemented in the iPhone/iPad etc. is just a softphone, in the same way that iChat can be used as a softphone. The key component is Apple SIP Server in ‘the cloud’ that maps your mobile/email to your iDevice. So technically it is very simple to open up FaceTime, a SIP trunk into the FaceTime SIP Cloud system is an easy starting point. However as implied in this article, Apple have decided to keep FaceTime to themselves, in the same way that Skype etc. operate as a closed system.
    I do predict that the current partnership between Apple and Cisco (note the license of the iOS name) will lead to the integration of a new cloud technology from Cisco (IME – Inter Company Media Engine) with FaceTime. If that happened all IME enabled Cisco IPT systems could talk seamlessly to Facetime. Dial the number of any iPhone in the world from and IME Enabled PBX (does not have to be Cisco or IP Enabled) and the call goes via the internet instead of PSTN. That is a huge cost saving (100’s of Millions very easily) for corporates, something Apple/Cisco will ultimately use to line their pockets in the future.

  4. […] meant to interoperate with a hypothetical third-party FaceTime implementation, something I took note of last May as possibly meaning that FaceTime was still ostensibly being opened up. With the removal of these […]

  5. […] als ofene Schnittstelle für alle: lange angekündigt, nie gekommen. Mit der unheiligen Allianz Skype / Microsoft im Nacken düfte sich Apples extrem träges Projekt […]

  6. […] promise, and we’re yet to see any sign of FaceTime becoming “open”. A few people have written about this recently, highlighting the long […]

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