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FaceTime gets an upgrade in iOS 15. Here are 6 new features you can try with friends

CNET logo CNET 7/24/2021 Andrew Hoyle
graphical user interface, application: FaceTime is taking on Zoom with some exciting iOS 15 upgrades. Apple © Provided by CNET FaceTime is taking on Zoom with some exciting iOS 15 upgrades. Apple

Apple announced during WWDC in June that FaceTime was getting a makeover. The tech giant's video chat app can be used on Android or Windows devices and includes the ability to host virtual watch parties, schedule calls in advance and more with its new software. The updates arrive with iOS 15. You can download the public beta now, but you may want to back up your iPhone first and consider that the software may not work 100% of the time. You can also always wait for the final version to arrive in the fall to try out the updated FaceTime features, if you decide the beta isn't the best for you.

graphical user interface, application: In iOS 15, links let Windows and Android users take a FaceTime video call from a browser. © Apple

In iOS 15, links let Windows and Android users take a FaceTime video call from a browser.

With these key updates to FaceTime, it seems Apple doesn't want Zoom to take all the success. Some of the features do indeed go some way to make FaceTime more like Zoom, while other features -- like SharePlay -- are all new and could offer great new ways of virtually hanging out with friends. 

Here are all the new features.

Generate invite link

Instead of calling another FaceTime user through the app, just as you'd make a phone call, you can now generate an invite link to send to your friends, family or colleagues. This allows you to put links in calendars and schedule them for later, rather than having to set up the call when the meeting begins. 

It also allows for...

graphical user interface, application: Apple/Screenshot by CNET © Provided by CNET Apple/Screenshot by CNET

FaceTime with Android and Windows

FaceTime has previously only been available to iPhone or iMac users, but using the invite links you can now have people on Android or Windows join the call. Once you've sent them the link they'll be able to join via their web browser on whatever device they're using. Apple says the calls will still be end-to-end encrypted. 

Spatial audio 

A new spatial audio isolation function will be available in the FaceTime app which significantly help cut down on background noise. Apple showed a demo in which a person was using a noisy leaf blower behind the person on the call, but when the new isolation function was activated, only their speech could be heard. It certainly seemed impressive, and great for taking calls in noisy locations, although how it fares in real life remains to be seen.

The flip side of the coin is an improvement to spatial audio, which aims to use 3D audio processing to capture more of the environment around a speaker and help it seem like they're in the room with you.

a man standing in front of a mirror in a car: Apple/Screenshot by CNET © Provided by CNET Apple/Screenshot by CNET

Portrait mode for FaceTime

Using the depth-sensing cameras on the iPhones, iPads and recent iMacs, when you use FaceTime you'll be able to have an attractively blurred background you on your FaceTime calls. Zoom offers a similar feature, but it's only software-based, so it's possible we may see an improvement in how well you're "cut out" of your background in Apple's version. 

a screen shot of a video game: Apple/Screenshot by CNET © Provided by CNET Apple/Screenshot by CNET

SharePlay 

SharePlay allows you to watch movies or listen to music totally in-sync with your friends and family over FaceTime. Say, for example, you want to watch Shrek with your friends (because why wouldn't you). SharePlay would allow the movie to begin on both your devices (iPad, iPhone, Mac or Apple TV) at exactly the same time, mimicking the experience of watching it together in the same room. Both parties on the call can pause and rewind whatever you're watching and you can AirPlay the film to your Apple TV using your phone or iPad just for the FaceTime call. 

It works with iTunes and Apple Music, along with HBO, TikTok, Disney Plus, Paramount Plus and others as initial partners. 

graphical user interface, application: Apple/Screenshot by CNET © Provided by CNET Apple/Screenshot by CNET

Group FaceTime grid view

With friends and family scattered all over the place, group FaceTime calls are an important feature. The new grid view places everyone on the call on the screen, making it easier to see who's on, with the active speaker being highlighted. It looks much the same as Zoom's Gallery view and will be a welcome addition to anyone trying to negotiate family group calls or team meetings over FaceTime.  

For more, take a look at Apple's rival to Netflix Party that you can use for your next FaceTime date or iOS 15's most exciting features. Also, although WWDC was just last month, we're gearing up for Apple's next event rumored to be sometime this September. We're expecting a few product upgrades, like the iPhone 13, Apple Watch 7 and iPad Mini 6, among others. But in the meantime, you can check out everything Apple announced in the spring including iOS 15, MacOS Monterey (also known as MacOS 12), Watch OS 8 and iPadOS 15

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