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 setup, and appealing by offering smooth 640×480-resolution video that was more lifelike than earlier alternatives on phones. Broader adoption of FaceTime began soon thereafter, with FaceTime coming to the iPod touch, Mac and iPad over the course of the following year.
With the release of iOS 5 in the fall of 2011, Apple then debuted iMessage, a new messaging feature that allowed iPhone users to send text messages between iOS devices directly through Apple’s servers using a data connection, bypassing the often-exorbitant cellular SMS/MMS messaging fees. Integrated into the Messages app on the iPhone, iMessage worked transparently without requiring iPhone users to identify or even need to know which of their friends and contacts were using iMessage as opposed to traditional SMS/MMS services. With the release of iMessage, a new Messages app also appeared on the iPad and iPod touch, allowing users to send and receive messages from those devices, and the introduction of Mountain Lion in the summer of 2012 brought iMessage support into the Mac OS X app formerly known as iChat.
For most users, both FaceTime and iMessage are relatively straightforward and just work. This is especially typical for iPhone users, where both services are configured automatically to use your device’s phone number with no additional configuration required on the user’s part. As numerous reader questions have demonstrated over the past two years, however, setting up and using FaceTime and iMessage on the iPod touch, iPad and Mac can be slightly more complicated—there are some common questions and points of confusion about how all of the various 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 and iMessage, using these services, and troubleshooting problems when they don’t quite work.
Setting up FaceTime and iMessage
Both FaceTime and iMessage use a virtually identical setup process, although each service is configured separately. The process is relatively straightforward, but differs slightly depending on whether you’re setting it up on an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac.
FaceTime + iMessage on the iPhone
Setting up FaceTime and iMessage on your iPhone is as easy as it gets. Apple initially designed both services to use your cellular phone number to register with Apple’s network; no additional configuration is required for users who only want to use these services with their phone number.
When setting up a new iPhone, both FaceTime and iMessage will be enabled by default. If you choose to sign in with an Apple ID in the initial iOS Setup Assistant, you will be asked to choose whether you want to associate any additional e-mail addresses from your Apple ID with your device.
FaceTime can also be enabled and disabled manually by going into your iPhone Settings app and choosing the FaceTime settings, where an an option appears at the top to toggle FaceTime on or off. The Messages settings provide a similar option for enabling and disabling iMessage.
Under the hood, the iPhone actually uses hidden SMS messages to register your phone number with the FaceTime and iMessage networks; depending on your carrier, these SMS messages will either be free or disclosed as charged against your SMS plan. On initial setup, the iPhone transmits an SMS message to Apple’s servers and awaits a confirmation message back to confirm that the phone number has successfully been registered. This procedure allows FaceTime and iMessage to be seamlessly configured to use your phone number with no user intervention required while also authenticating your phone number. Note that this registration process is the only way that a phone number can be assigned to FaceTime or iMessage.
This procedure normally only needs to be completed when you turn on FaceTime or iMessage 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/iMessage networks, however your iPhone does not re-register when resetting the phone or simply 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 and iMessage 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 or iMessage to use a phone number on your iPhone, although you can still set up either or both services using an Apple ID and e-mail address provided you’re using iOS 5 or later.
A Quick Note On Apple IDs
An Apple ID is required to use FaceTime and iMessage 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 iCloud and Apple’s Game Center.
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 and/or iMessage on non-iPhone devices, users can create an entirely new Apple ID for use with only those services, or use any existing Apple ID. If users choose to use an existing Apple ID, an iCloud or iTunes Store account works, as does an Apple ID used only for online Apple Store purchases or 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 and iMessage.
For most users, simply using an existing iCloud or iTunes Store account will probably be the simplest way to get FaceTime and iMessage 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 and iMessages received on multiple devices—more on this later.
Keep in mind as well that you do not need to use the same Apple ID for all services—even FaceTime and iMessage can each be used with completely different Apple IDs on the same device, which can in turn be distinct from the Apple ID used for iCloud, iTunes and Game Center.
FaceTime + iMessage on the iPod touch and iPad
Setting up FaceTime and iMessage on an iPod touch or iPad is a little more complicated than for the iPhone since there is no phone number or SMS messaging service to allow you to register your device automatically with Apple’s servers. As a result, you’re required to use an e-mail address associated with an Apple ID.
Although an Apple ID is not required to use FaceTime or iMessage on an iPhone with only a phone number, this procedure can also be used in iOS 5 for iPhone users who also want to receive FaceTime calls or iMessages using an e-mail address.
On the iPod touch and iPad, FaceTime runs as a separate app, which appears at the top of your home screen by default. Similarly, these devices gained a “Messages” app as of iOS 5 that allows messages to be sent and received via the iMessage network; note that traditional SMS/MMS messages are not supported on these devices, however.
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 Settings app.
The e-mail address you enter for your Apple ID is only used to authenticate you to Apple’s servers. 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 or iMessage 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 device. You can configure additional FaceTime options by visiting the FaceTime section in the iPad or 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 to 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 + iMessage on the Mac
In late October 2010, Apple announced a public beta of a FaceTime application for Mac users, which was later bundled with the release of OS X Lion in the summer of 2011. A similar trend was repeated with Messages for Mac, which came out as a public beta in January 2012 and was included in OS X Mountain Lion that summer.
On the Mac, FaceTime exists as a standalone app and works in a manner very similar to the iPod touch and iPad. The new Messages app on OS X Mountain Lion replaces the app formerly known as iChat, combining previous iChat/AIM/Jabber IM features with iMessage support.
As with the iPad and iPod touch, you will need to use an Apple ID to register for FaceTime and iMessage and choose an 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 on iOS, 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. 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 FaceTime’s 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.
Similarly, new iMessages will be received by the Messages app on OS X Mountain Lion even when the app is not running. By default, a standard badge count is displayed on the Dock icon when a new iMessage comes in. iMessage settings can be tweaked under the Accounts section in Messages Preferences, including the ability to disable iMessage entirely and choose which addresses you want to receive iMessages for.
Using FaceTime + iMessage on Multiple Devices
If you own multiple FaceTime/iMessage devices, you can use the same Apple ID on all of them—there is no requirement to sign up for a new Apple ID for an alternate device, even if you want to keep your conversations separate. With a single Apple ID you can choose to use the same e-mail address on multiple devices, in which case each will receive all incoming calls and messages, 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.
Until recently, the use of a phone number for FaceTime or iMessage was limited to the iPhone only. Users who wanted to receive FaceTime calls or iMessages on multiple devices were forced to use an e-mail address across all of their devices, potentially creating additional confusion where friends and family were accustomed to using phone numbers. This was especially true in the case of iMessage, where phone numbers are used for traditional text messages, and existing iMessage conversations—which can sometimes remain on a device for months—would continue on with whichever address was used to start the conversation in the first place.
Fortunately, iOS 6 introduces the ability to assign the number from your iPhone to your other iOS and Mac devices running FaceTime or iMessage. Rather than simply letting you specify your phone number and putting you through a needless manual verification step, Apple handled this simply by associating the verified number that is already set up on your iPhone with your Apple ID, thereby allowing it to be used on other iOS devices and Macs in the same manner as enabling an e-mail address.
In order to set this up, you must ensure that you have logged into FaceTime and/or iMessage on your iPhone with the same Apple ID that you are using on your other devices. The process for doing this is the same as for setting up FaceTime/iMessage on an iPod touch, except that you will also see your phone number listed alongside your e-mail addresses. Once you have logged in, your iPhone should register your cellular phone number with your Apple ID, at which point it will appear in the list of available addresses on your iPad, iPod touch and/or Mac and can be enabled from there simply by selecting it.
As an additional security feature, iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion will also display a notification whenever a FaceTime or iMessage address is added to another device and you will also receive an e-mail message whenever your Apple ID is first used on another iOS device or Mac.
Once configured, a FaceTime/iMessage phone number works in the exact same manner as an e-mail address for use on multiple devices. You can enable and disable it on any of your other devices with the exception of your iPhone and FaceTime calls and iMessages sent to your phone number will appear on all iOS devices and Macs that are configured to use that phone number. In fact, if you have more than one iPhone using the same Apple ID, you can even share phone numbers for FaceTime and iMessage across your iPhones and other devices.
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 or Mac has a valid Internet connection.
iPhone 4 and second-generation iPad users are still limited to using FaceTime over Wi-Fi only, while users running iOS 6 on an iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, third- or fourth-generation iPad or iPad mini can now use FaceTime over a cellular data connection, subject to carrier limitations.
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.
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 addresses 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 have the necessary network connectivity. 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 proper coverage or is otherwise capable of accepting a FaceTime call.
If an iPhone user receives a FaceTime call while out of appropriate network coverage, the iPhone will not provide any notification of the incoming call, but will show a missed call indication and an entry in the Recents list within the Phone app.
Placing and Receiving FaceTime calls on the iPad and iPod touch
The process for using FaceTime on an iPad or iPod touch is very similar to the iPhone except that a dedicated FaceTime app is used in the absence of the 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 iPad or iPod touch that is out of FaceTime 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.
iPad and iPod touch users can also assign ringtones for incoming FaceTime calls on a per-contact basis by assigning a specific ringtone to different contacts in much the same way as is done on the iPhone.
Placing and Receiving FaceTime calls on the Mac
FaceTime for the Mac is essentially modeled after the iPad version 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 iPad, including Favorites, Recents and Contacts sections.
As with the iPad, 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 iOS version 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
Users can configure the same Apple ID and FaceTime e-mail address or phone number on more than one device. Doing this will result in any FaceTime calls to that address simultaneously ringing ALL of the devices that are configured with that 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 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 address will only ring on the device that is configured with that 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 either not answered or declined by any device. A call is only “missed” if it was never picked up at all.
Once configured, using iMessage is generally transparent. On the iPhone, Apple chose to integrate the new messaging system into the existing Messages app, and the procedure for sending an iMessage is basically the same as for sending a traditional SMS/MMS message; simply start a new message as you normally would, and the Messages app will determine based on the destination address and available network coverage whether it should use Apple’s iMessage network or the carrier’s traditional cellular network to send the message.
The Messages app provides visual indicators of which network is being used in the form of the Send button and message bubble colours and watermarked text in the compose message field. Green is used to indicate traditional SMS/MMS messages and blue for iMessages.
By default, the iPhone Messages app will fall back to sending a standard SMS/MMS message when Wi-Fi or cellular data coverage is unavailable—a feature which can be disabled under Messages in the Settings app if you would prefer to only use iMessage. You can also force a given iMessage to go out via SMS/MMS if it’s not already been delivered via the iMessage network; simply tap-and-hold on the sent message bubble and a “Send as Text Message” option will appear. Once sent, the message bubble will change to green and a “Sent as Text Message” status indicator will appear below it. Note that this will only affect the selected message; the conversation will still continue using iMessage if possible.
Much like for FaceTime, the iPad and iPod touch now include a new Messages app as well that works in the same manner for sending and receiving iMessages with other iOS users. However, despite the ability to assign your iPhone number to your other devices, only the iPhone itself can send and receive traditional SMS/MMS messages, as these are sent directly from the device itself over the cellular network, and not via Apple’s servers. Most other devices lack the necessary cellular hardware to send and receive SMS/MMS messages and Apple does not provide any kind of gateway between the iMessage and SMS/MMS networks. The Messages app on the iPad and iPod touch can only be used to send iMessages to a phone number that is registered for iMessage.
The new Messages app on OS X Mountain Lion works in much the same way as the iPad and iPod touch version in terms of capabilities—sending and receiving iMessages but not SMS/MMS messages. Dock icon notifications are used to indicate new iMessages in much the same way as for iChat/AIM/Jabber IM notifications, and sending and receiving messages works in the expected manner.
iMessage conversations will also sync up between any devices sharing the same iMessages address, including messages you’ve sent from any one of your devices. This allows you to easily start a conversation on one device and continue it on another. Note that each device maintains its own iMessage conversation history and deletion of individual messages and conversations does not sync between devices; if there’s something you want deleted you’ll need to do this manually on each of your devices.
About Delivery Status and Read Receipts
iMessage provides the ability to perform full two-way delivery and read tracking for any messages sent through the iMessage network. Messages sent to another iMessage recipient will display a “Delivered” status once the other device receives the message, and a “Read” status with a timestamp once the user actually reads the message. Message tracking is not available for messages that have been sent out as SMS/MMS messages, even in an existing iMessage conversation.
Note that if the recipient is using multiple devices with the same iMessage address, the Delivered status will appear as soon as the first of the devices has received the iMessage.
Delivered status notifications cannot be disabled in iMessage, however you can choose to disable the sending of read receipts under Messages in your iOS Settings app, or under your account preferences in the OS X Messages app. Note that this setting is applied on a per-device basis, so if you don’t want read receipts sent at all, you will need to disable it across all of your devices.
If you have configured multiple addresses for iMessage you will see an additional option in your settings to choose which address to use as the “Caller ID” for originating iMessages from your device.
It is important to keep in mind that this “Caller ID” setting only affects new iMessage conversations that you initiate. Existing conversation threads will continue to use whichever iMessage address was originally used to start the conversation, which may differ from your default “Caller ID” address. This will often happen when someone else contacts you using one of your other iMessage addresses; your replies will be sent from the address that was used to contact you, and not your default “Caller ID” address.
In most cases this will not be a noticeable problem, but it can affect you if you haven’t configured all of your iMessage addresses across all of your devices. Since conversations only sync to those devices that are sharing the same iMessage address, you may find yourself missing conversations on your other devices. Simply configuring all of the addresses you plan to use on all of your devices will avoid this kind of confusion and this is even easier to deal with now that your iMessage phone number can be assigned to your other devices.
Troubleshooting FaceTime and iMessage
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.
In contrast, iMessage generally works much better, since the protocols involved here are far simpler. Sending small bursts of text is much less complex than carrying on a live video conversation. Once iMessage is properly activated, it really does “just work” in the vast majority of cases, with most issues being related to draconian firewalls in some schools and businesses that are likely blocking a lot more than just iMessage traffic. Sadly, this isn’t usually a problem that the end user can solve other than by flipping to a different Wi-Fi network or turning off Wi-Fi entirely and using a cellular connection instead, where available.
iPhone Fails to Register with Apple’s Servers
For iPhone users, FaceTime and iMessage 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 and iMessage both work over Wi-Fi, an iPhone without a cellular plan has no phone number and will not be able to register with a number with Apple’s servers. In this case, you can simply register an e-mail address with an Apple ID in the same manner as you would for an iPod touch, but you will not be able to use your device’s phone number without being able to complete the SMS registration process.