One of the bigger wow factors of the latest generations of iOS devices has been FaceTime, allowing any network-connected device to operate as a surprisingly functional video conferencing platform (albeit only with other iOS devices). I’ve only used it a couple of times, but have been overall impressed with how well it works. The sole issue I had with it was when my father attempted to use it over the free wifi of his favorite coffee destination. While the coffee might be good, their wifi is wholly lacking, causing stuttering in the video and an altogether less-than-accepatble experience with FaceTime. With the upcoming release of iOS 6 FaceTime will no longer be limited to wifi, but while this vastly increases your opportunity to video call it increases the likelihood that you’ll run into the kind of bandwidth issues that I did.
While some have complained about the low resolution front facing camera that iOS devices ship with, it’s by design- that lower resolution camera offers acceptable quality images for FaceTime calls in exchange for those images being far less bandwidth-intensive. Sure, a front-facing camera of the same quality as the rear camera would be a nice addition, but it would far outpace the network capacity of most connections to stream such a high resolution image. When even the lower resolution camera is too much for your connection so far the only viable option iOS users have had is to give up on FaceTime in favor of iMessage.
A recent post from OSX Daily offers a compromise- forcing FaceTime into a voice-only mode. The workaround turns FaceTime into a de facto low-bandwidth VIOP service, providing a voice connection via your device’s data connection. The process is a simple one- start FaceTime as usual, and after the connection is made simply hit your device’s Home button. This freezes the video connection but allows voice to continue; according to the article your audio connection should be drastically improved even over otherwise poor networks.
While you’d miss on the video portion of FaceTime, if you need to make an important call (or possibly a coherent one in a worst case scenario) this simple trick may give you the help you need. The trick isn’t limited to just handhelds- it should work even when connecting via the OSX FaceTime client by minimizing the video portion.