The Complete Guide to FaceTime: Set-up, Use, and Troubleshooting Problems (2010)
A new version of this article is now available. Please see our updated article, The Complete Guide to FaceTime + iMessage: Setup, Use, and Troubleshooting.
Apple’s introduction of the iPhone 4 in mid-2010 included a major new feature dubbed FaceTime, a one-on-one video calling feature that the company promised would be inside tens of millions of devices by year’s end. Although the concept of video calling on mobile phones was not new, Apple made the feature accessible by requiring virtually no user set-up, and appealing by offering smooth 640x480-resolution video that was more lifelike than earlier alternatives on phones.
Broader adoption of FaceTime began soon thereafter. In early September, Apple introduced FaceTime for the new iPod touch, providing a similarly-seamless integration of video calling for users of that device. Then a beta version of FaceTime was announced for the Mac in October, and with a new iPad only months away, FaceTime’s reach and popularity will only continue to expand.
For most users, FaceTime is relatively straightforward and just works. This is especially typical of the iPhone 4, which has little more than an on or off switch for the feature. But as numerous reader questions have demonstrated over the past few months, setting up and using FaceTime on the iPod touch and Mac is slightly more complicated—there are some common questions and points of confusion about how all of the various FaceTime features fit together, as well as situations in which FaceTime may not quite work as advertised. As a result, we’ve combined the many questions we’ve received into a complete guide to setting up FaceTime, using it, and troubleshooting problems when FaceTime doesn’t quite work.
Setting up FaceTime
The process of setting up FaceTime is relatively straightforward, but differs slightly depending on whether you’re setting it up on an iPhone, iPod touch or Mac.
FaceTime on the iPhone
Setting up FaceTime on the iPhone is as easy as it gets. Apple initially designed FaceTime to use your cellular phone number to register with the FaceTime network; no additional registration information is required.
To enable FaceTime on the iPhone, simply go into your iPhone Settings app and choose the Phone settings. An option appears below your phone number to toggle FaceTime on or off. Note that depending on your carrier, this option may be enabled by default.
The process of enabling FaceTime on the iPhone uses hidden SMS messages to register your phone number with the FaceTime network, and depending on your carrier, these SMS messages will either be free or disclosed as charged against your SMS plan. On initial setup, the iPhone 4 transmits an SMS message to Apple’s FaceTime servers and then awaits a confirmation message back to confirm that the phone number has successfully been registered for FaceTime. A “Waiting for Activation” message will appear below the FaceTime option while this process completes.
FaceTime registration normally only needs to be completed when you turn on FaceTime or swap SIM cards in your iPhone. Changing your SIM card will automatically cause your iPhone to re-register the new phone number on the FaceTime network. The iPhone does not re-register with FaceTime when resetting the phone or when leaving and returning from wireless coverage.
Note that you will need normal cellular connectivity and the ability to send and receive text messages from your cellular phone number in order to complete FaceTime activation. If you do not have a cellular plan or SMS is not enabled for your account, you will not be able to enable FaceTime on your iPhone. In light of the addition of non-iPhone devices to the FaceTime network, and the eventual desire of users to continue using their iPhones on Wi-Fi networks after discontinuing their cellular service plans, it will be interesting to see whether Apple provides an option for registration of these devices—most likely using Apple IDs.
A Quick Note On Apple IDs
An Apple ID is required to use FaceTime on devices other than the iPhone, however there has been some confusion as to exactly what an Apple ID is and what is required to set one up.
An Apple ID is simply a username and password that have been registered with Apple. Today, the same Apple ID can be used to access services including the company’s online Apple Store, the iTunes Store, and product registration. Apple IDs are also used for Apple’s Game Center and the newly free Find My iPhone feature in iOS 4.2.
While an Apple ID can be used for an iTunes Store account, users do not require an iTunes Store account to have an Apple ID. To put it another way, every iTunes Store account uses an Apple ID, but not every Apple ID is used for an iTunes Store account.
When setting up FaceTime on non-iPhone devices, users can create an entirely new Apple ID for use with FaceTime, or use an existing Apple ID. If users choose to use an existing Apple ID, an iTunes Store account works, as does an Apple ID used only for online Apple Store purchases, or for product registration. Users can also set up a new Apple ID manually by visiting http://appleid.apple.com.
Note that a credit card is not required to create an Apple ID unless you are also signing up for an iTunes Store account. That said, having a single unified Apple ID with iTunes Store, Apple Store, and other account information all tied together may be easier for users to manage than maintaining separate accounts for different purposes, and once an Apple ID is set up, multiple e-mail addresses can be linked to that account for FaceTime calling.
For most users, simply using an existing iTunes Store account will probably be the simplest way to get FaceTime up and running. Family users, however, may prefer to set up one or more new Apple IDs for devices that will be used by children or secondary family members. Note also that a single Apple ID can be used to have FaceTime calls ring on multiple devices—more on this later.
FaceTime on the iPod touch
Setting up FaceTime on the fourth-generation iPod touch a little more complicated than the iPhone 4, since there is no phone number or SMS messaging service to allow you to register your device with the FaceTime network automatically. As a result, you’re required to register the device manually by using an Apple ID and e-mail address.
On the iPod touch, FaceTime runs as a separate app, which appears in the very top-left corner of your home screen by default.
Opening the FaceTime app for the first time will show you a “Getting Started” screen and take you through the process of setting up FaceTime by signing in with your Apple ID. You can also access the same FaceTime setup process from the “FaceTime” section in your iPod touch Settings app.
The e-mail address you enter for your Apple ID is only used to authenticate you to the FaceTime network. Once you’ve logged in with your Apple ID, you will then be asked to specify the e-mail address—same or different—you wish to use as your FaceTime contact address. This will default to the e-mail address associated with your Apple ID, but you can choose to use any other valid e-mail address that has not already been associated with another Apple ID.
Once this process has been completed, you will be taken to the main FaceTime app and shown a list of contacts stored on your iPod touch. You can configure additional FaceTime options by visiting the FaceTime section in the iPod touch Settings app. This allows you to turn off FaceTime entirely, sign in with a different Apple ID or add additional e-mail addresses.
Adding additional e-mail addresses will allow other FaceTime users to call you using any of the listed e-mail addresses. When more than one e-mail address is configured, an additional option appears allowing you to choose which e-mail address should be displayed as your “Caller ID” for outgoing calls that you place to other FaceTime users.
Any additional e-mail addresses that you add for FaceTime must be verified before they can be used. Apple will send a verification e-mail to each address you add, requiring you to click a link to validate that e-mail address as belonging to you. The entry in the FaceTime settings will show “Verifying” until the e-mail address has been validated.
Note that once you have verified an e-mail address it becomes associated with your Apple ID and will not need to be re-verified again if you choose add it for FaceTime on another device, or even if you remove and re-add it on the same device. To permanently remove an e-mail address associated with your Apple ID you must visit the “Manage your account” section at http://appleid.apple.com.
FaceTime on the Mac + Multi-Device FaceTiming
In late October, Apple announced a public beta of a FaceTime application for Mac users. Unlike FaceTime for the iPhone and iPod touch, FaceTime for the Mac is not yet bundled with your Mac; it can be downloaded from http://www.apple.com/mac/facetime.
Once downloaded and installed, setting up FaceTime for the Mac is very similar to setting it up on the iPod touch. You will need to use an Apple ID to register with the FaceTime network and choose which e-mail address you would like to use. You will also be prompted to choose which region you are in for the purposes of formatting local phone numbers from your OS X Address Book application.
As with the iPod touch, you are initially only prompted for a single e-mail address to use with FaceTime, which defaults to the e-mail address of your Apple ID. You can add additional e-mail addresses by choosing the Preferences option.
As with the iPod touch, any new e-mail addresses you enter here will need to be verified before they can be used, unless they are already associated with your Apple ID.
From Preferences, you can also switch FaceTime off or sign in with a different Apple ID. Once configured, FaceTime for Mac remains running in the background to receive calls even when the application isn’t actually open. To disable incoming calls, you must switch the FaceTime setting in Preferences to OFF.
If you own both an iPod touch and a Mac, you can use the same Apple ID on both devices—there is no requirement to sign up for a second Apple ID for the alternate device. With the same Apple ID you can either choose to use the same e-mail address on both devices, in which case incoming calls will ring in both places, or you can choose to use a different e-mail address for each. If you have multiple e-mail addresses available, you can also use a combination of e-mail addresses, with some addresses shared between both devices and some addresses configured only on one device or the other.
For the benefit of family or business users, it should be noted that FaceTime calls between two devices only work if a call is placed from one device to a second device that is not using the same e-mail address. Calls between two devices using the same e-mail address will fail.
Once configured and enabled on your iPhone, iPod touch, or Mac, FaceTime will automatically receive incoming calls from other FaceTime users as long as your iOS device is connected to a Wi-Fi network, or your Mac is connected to the Internet—the latter in any way.
Outgoing FaceTime calls must be initiated by selecting a contact in your address book—there is no means to manually dial a FaceTime phone number or e-mail address. This means that anybody you wish to contact via FaceTime must be in your address book.
To place calls to a FaceTime user on an iPhone, you must use their cellular phone number. An iPhone cannot register for FaceTime with an e-mail address. To place calls to a FaceTime user on an iPod touch or a Mac you must use one of their registered FaceTime e-mail addresses that is configured on that particular device.
Placing and Receiving FaceTime calls on the iPhone
For iPhone users, FaceTime is integrated into the built-in Phone and Contacts applications. Calls can be placed by tapping the “FaceTime” button at the bottom of a contact record in either the Contacts app or the Phone app. A small FaceTime icon appears beside those numbers or e-mail addresses that have been successfully used for FaceTime already.
Incoming FaceTime calls will be listed alongside normal cellular calls in the “Recents” section of the Phone app, and users can also add FaceTime numbers or e-mail address to their Favorites section in the Phone app.
iPhone users can also switch from a normal cellular voice call to a FaceTime call in the middle of a conversation, so long as both devices are connected to Wi-Fi networks. A FaceTime button appears in the normal call controls to start a FaceTime session with the call in progress. A question mark over the FaceTime button indicates that the other caller may not be registered for FaceTime, but does not provide any indication of whether the other iPhone is within Wi-Fi coverage or is otherwise capable of accepting a FaceTime call.
If an iPhone user receives a FaceTime call while out of Wi-Fi coverage, the iPhone will not provide any notification of the incoming call, but will show a missed call indication and an entry in the Recent list within the Phone app.
Placing and Receiving FaceTime calls on the iPod touch
The process for using FaceTime on an iPod touch is very similar to the iPhone except that a dedicated FaceTime app is used in the absence of a Phone app. FaceTime calls can be placed from the Contact list in the FaceTime app or from the Contacts app. Tapping on a Phone number will automatically attempt a FaceTime call to that user, however the FaceTime button must be used to place a FaceTime call to an e-mail address, as the default behavior when tapping on an e-mail address is to send an e-mail to the user, even when done from within the FaceTime app.
The FaceTime app also provides Favorites and Recents listings that work in the same manner as the Phone app on the iPhone, although these obviously only provide FaceTime contact information.
When FaceTime calls are placed to an iPod touch that is out of Wi-Fi coverage, the FaceTime app will display the missed call as a badge on the FaceTime icon and in the Recents listing when the device next connects to the Internet.
iPod touch users can also assign ringtones for incoming FaceTime calls on a per-contact basis by assigning a specific ringtone to different contacts.
Placing and Receiving FaceTime calls on the Mac
FaceTime for the Mac is essentially modeled after the iPod touch and uses a similar interface for placing and receiving calls. When opening the app you will see a preview from your iSight or other web camera with controls to the right of the preview image similar to those found on the iPod touch, including Favorites, Recents and Contacts sections.
As with the iPod touch and iPhone, calls to FaceTime users must be placed from your address book. FaceTime for Mac reads the OS X Address Book directly, displaying all of your contacts within the FaceTime app. You can also add specific contacts to your Favorites for quick access. FaceTime for Mac does not provide the ability to edit contacts from within the app—users must return to the OS X Address Book to change contact information.
FaceTime on the Mac can receive calls regardless of whether the application is currently actively running or not. An incoming FaceTime call will display an incoming call screen very similar to the iPhone or iPod touch with buttons to accept or decline the call.
The FaceTime app opens once the user accepts the call; if they choose to reject it, the window simply disappears and the main FaceTime app remains closed.
Missed or declined FaceTime calls will appear in the Recents list within the FaceTime app and also display a notification badge count over the FaceTime app icon in the Dock.
During a call, the FaceTime for Mac window will reorient into either portrait or landscape view depending upon the video being sent by the caller. By default, the camera view presented by the Mac user will follow the same orientation, however Mac users can force their sent video into either portrait or landscape orientation using an option on the Video menu. Once the orientation has been forced into portrait or landscape it will only present the video in that orientation and will no longer follow the other user’s orientation. For whatever reason, the orientation always defaults to portrait mode on the Mac, and needs to be switched to landscape manually.
More On Using FaceTime on Multiple Devices
Mac and iPod touch users can configure the same Apple ID and e-mail address on more than one device. Doing this will result in any FaceTime calls to that e-mail address simultaneously ringing ALL of the devices that are configured with that e-mail address. The user can then choose which device to answer the call on, or simply decline the call from any of their devices.
Alternatively, a user can use the same Apple ID but a different e-mail address on each device. This allows each device to act as its own FaceTime device and place and receive calls independently. In this case, calls to an e-mail address will only ring on the device that is configured with that e-mail address.
When receiving a FaceTime call on more than one device, a missed call indicator will only appear on other devices if the call was not answered or declined by any device. A call is only “missed” if it was never picked up at all.
For many users, FaceTime works very well and requires minimal configuration. The fact that Apple has been able to accomplish this across a wide variety of network and router configurations is actually quite remarkable considering the complexity of the video conferencing protocols involved. That said, however, there are a wide range of configuration issues that can easily break FaceTime communication and cause users endless frustration for a technology that is supposed to “just work.” Further, the various FaceTime applications provide little guidance for end users when there are problems, but instead just don’t work. Below we provide some suggestions for things to look out for if you’re having problems with FaceTime.
iPhone Fails to Register with FaceTime Servers
For iPhone users, FaceTime registration requires the ability to exchange SMS messages with the FaceTime servers. This means that you must have an active cellular voice plan (a data plan is not required, however), and your cellular service must allow you to both send and receive text messages. Despite the fact that FaceTime works over Wi-Fi, an iPhone without a cellular plan has no phone number and will not be able to register with the FaceTime servers, at least for now.
Note that the iPhone provides no ability to use an e-mail address to receive FaceTime calls. A user must use a cellular phone number, which basically means that he or she has to have cellular phone service for the device.
Failure to Login with Apple ID (iPod touch / Mac)
FaceTime requires an Apple ID that is an e-mail address. Users will not be able to login with an older-style username Apple ID. The FaceTime application is particularly unhelpful in providing you with this information—it will simply tell you that your username or password is incorrect.
If you are using an Apple ID that is simply a user name—one without an @ sign in it—then you will need to either sign up for a new Apple ID or change your Apple ID by visiting http://appleid.apple.com and using the “Manage your Account” section.
It is also important to ensure that the date and time on your iOS device or Mac is set correctly, as this is used as part of the authentication process for FaceTime.
There is also a bug in iOS 4.2 on the iPod touch that causes your original Apple ID password to be saved by iOS and reused regardless of what you actually enter in the password field. You’ll find that if you sign out of FaceTime and sign back in with the same Apple ID, you can actually enter anything you like in the password field and successfully log in.
This means that if you change the password for your Apple ID, the FaceTime application will fail to log in, even after entering your new password. The only solutions to this problem are to either change your Apple ID password back to what it was before, or reset all of the settings on your iPod touch back to their defaults. A later version of iOS may address this issue.
Outgoing FaceTime Calls Fail Immediately
If a FaceTime call fails immediately after initiating the call, this usually means that the phone number or e-mail address you are calling is not registered for FaceTime. Calls to FaceTime-registered e-mail addresses and phone numbers should always attempt to ring through regardless of whether the target device is available or not—the caller receives no notification if the line is busy, or the device is out of Wi-Fi or Internet coverage.
Remember also that you must use a phone number and not an e-mail address when placing FaceTime calls to an iPhone, even when calling from an iPod touch or Mac.
Note that a user must verify an e-mail address before it is registered on the FaceTime network. If you have added a new e-mail address for FaceTime but not yet verified it by responding to the e-mail, FaceTime calls to that e-mail address will fail in this manner.
There is also a known bug in FaceTime for Mac that can cause calls to numbers with non-standard characters to fail. The OS X Address Book allows users to use dots or slashes in phone number formats, such as 416.555.1212 or 416/555-1212. Yet calls to numbers in these formats will fail as the FaceTime network does not recognize the special characters. Users with this problem should change their OS X Address Book preferences to use another phone number format and manually change the dots or slashes in any affected phone numbers to dashes ( - ).
Outgoing FaceTime calls will also fail in this manner if you are trying to call the same e-mail address that is configured as your caller ID in the FaceTime preferences. Once again, in order to call another FaceTime device, it must have an e-mail address that is not configured on the device you are calling from.
Outgoing FaceTime calls never ring on the other end
The most common cause of FaceTime calls not being received is that the destination device is simply not within Internet-connected Wi-Fi coverage. The calling user receives no notification of this—the outgoing call simply rings as if it is not being answered, while the called user never hears a ring. He or she will receive a missed call notification only after the FaceTime call stops ringing.
This problem also commonly occurs at public Wi-Fi hotspots where users may not be logged in or their logins have timed out. Many public Wi-Fi hotspots require a separate login through a web browser page in order to actually access the Internet. In this case, even though the iPhone or iPod touch displays the Wi-Fi symbol, the device cannot be reached by the FaceTime servers until the user has logged into the Wi-Fi hotspot service.
Firewalls and certain router configurations can also prevent FaceTime calls from being received. This applies to most corporate and some school firewalls. If you’re having this problem with your own home router, see the section later in this article on home network issues.
FaceTime Calls Ring But Fail to Connect When Answered
This issue is most commonly caused by network configuration problems. This can include a firewall that blocks FaceTime, or simply a home router that is incorrectly configured or does not support the protocols necessary for FaceTime. See the section below on troubleshooting home network issues for more information.
This problem can also occur if you are trying to call an e-mail address that is also configured on your own device in your FaceTime preferences. In order to call another FaceTime address, it must have an e-mail address that is not configured on the device you are calling from.
Troubleshooting Home Network Issues
If you are having problems getting FaceTime working from your home network, the most useful troubleshooting step to isolate a home network problem is to try FaceTime from a known public Wi-Fi access point, such as an Apple Retail Store. This should support FaceTime without any issues, and most public Wi-Fi hotspots in places like libraries, coffee shops and airports should also be configured to pass the necessary data required for a FaceTime call, even if the video quality is unimpressive. If you can get FaceTime working in another location but not at home, then this suggests a problem with your home router rather than your iOS device.
For typical home users, FaceTime requires a router that supports the Universal Plug-and-Play (UPNP) or NAT Port Mapping Protocol (NAT-PMP). This is necessary as your iPhone, iPod touch or Mac normally uses a private Internet address that cannot be reached from the public Internet. This makes it necessary for your router to dynamically route incoming FaceTime communications to the proper device inside your home network.
Almost all home routers manufactured in the past several years have either UPNP or NAT-PMP support, however this is not always enabled by default. You can check this setting and enable it if necessary by logging into your home router’s configuration page. The exact steps for this are unique to each different home router model; consult your router’s documentation of the vendor’s support page for more information.
Note that if you have enabled a “DMZ host” option in your home router to direct traffic to a specific computer, this can also interfere with the UPNP/NAT-PMP function in your router, preventing any other devices from accessing FaceTime. Not all home routers have this issue, and some like Apple’s Time Capsule and Airport Express Base Stations can handle both a DMZ host and NAT-PMP without any problems.
Another problem that some users encounter is a “double-NAT” situation caused by their Internet Service Providers. In this scenario, the Internet provider’s DSL or cable modem is performing its own network address translation (NAT) and assigning a private IP address to your own router. Your home router then performs another layer of network address translation and assigns a different private IP address to your home network devices. FaceTime cannot handle these two layers of address translation and will simply fail to work in such a configuration. You can identify this problem by accessing your router’s configuration pages and looking at the public IP address of your home router—if it begins with 10, 172 or 192 then chances are that your ISP is assigning it a private address. Solving this will generally require contacting your Internet service provider to get them to disable this feature. You can also try reconfiguring your home router to a “bridge” mode if your device supports it and you’re comfortable working with these settings.
If something hasn’t been covered above, and you haven’t jailbroken your iOS device—a potential cause of instabilities with different iOS features—feel free to post a question in the comments section below. We’ll answer the ones that we can help with.
FaceTime had a tremendous first six months of operation on the iPhone 4, and only became better when iPod touches and Macs were added to the mix. In 2011, we expect that the second-generation iPad will gain the ability to participate in FaceTime chats using video cameras of its own, and will most likely follow the same sign-up procedure used by the iPod touch. We would also expect that Apple will try to further streamline the sign-up process for FaceTime, as well as to expand its compatibility to certain cellular carriers’ 3G and 4G/LTE networks. This article will be updated as major developments occur.
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