With most people being stuck inside these days due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, users are turning to video conferencing apps in droves, and you may find yourself asking which one is the best for staying in touch with friends, family, or colleagues, especially with so many different options available.
As Apple fans, our tendency is naturally to turn to FaceTime by default, since of course it’s built in to every iPhone, iPad, and Mac out there, so if your aging mom has an iPhone (or even an iPod touch), you can easily make a video call to her without needing to walk her through the process of installing an app, setting up an account, signing in, etc. In typical Apple fashion, it’s a method that “Just Works.”
Of course, not everybody is blessed with the ability to own Apple products, and even among those who do, there are situations where FaceTime isn’t necessarily the best solution. For example, although Apple introduced a Group FaceTime feature last year, it was arguably designed to be more whimsical than practical, with participants shown in an array of floating panels.
Apple will be the hero of coronavirus if they just switch group FaceTime to a simple grid 🤬
— Jessie Char (@jessiechar) March 22, 2020
This sort of thing may be great when you’re having a fun chat with your friends, but it can be distracting if you’re holding a business meeting and trying to actually get some work done.
Fortunately, there are a multitude of other options available, and for many work-at-home users, Zoom seems to have gotten the most attention in the midst of this crisis, likely because it’s already a staple of so many business customers; chances are if you’ve been sent to work from home by any medium to large business, they’ve already got you using Zoom whether you like it or not.
If you’re like us, you’re probably wondering what makes Zoom better than the other options you already have available. After all, not only is there FaceTime, but other apps that you may already be using like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp offer their own video calling features too. So one of the questions we’ve been asking around the virtual water cooler is exactly what makes Zoom so special? Read on for 11 key differences between Zoom and FaceTime.
Due to its need to get businesses up and running quickly, Zoom offers a pretty quick setup for other participants. The organizer simply signs up for a free account, installs the app, and and then sends out a meeting invite link that lets everyone else jump right in. While this is still more complicated than using the tools that all of your family and friends already have available, it’s definitely easier than walking a non-technical user through the mechanics of installing something like Skype and signing up for an account.
Further, only the meeting organizer (i.e. you) needs to have a Zoom account. Participants can merely click on the link you send them and be ready to go without needing to sign up for anything. While FaceTime doesn’t require users to have an account either — just an iPhone, iPad, or Mac — other services like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp do, and some of your friends or family members may be reluctant to sign up for yet another online service just to participate in a group chat, especially considering there’s always one or two in every group who are nervous about new platforms in general or may specifically refuse to have anything to do with sites like Facebook.
Zoom is built from the ground up as a meeting tool, and therefore the user interface is designed to be clean, professional, and distraction free. The main person speaking is given primary focus, while others can be (optionally) displayed in a set of smaller thumbnails along the edge, and there are lots of different ways to configure how your screen is laid out to minimize distractions and focus on the actual conversation. There’s even a “virtual background” feature if you don’t want other participants to see the messy room behind you.
There are also options for screen sharing, which makes it handy as a remote support tool for friends and family who may need help with their computers, plus a whiteboard to sketch things out, the ability to text-chat while on a video call, and even a recording feature to save your calls.
Since Zoom is designed with business users in mind, it’s much more suitable if you want to get your entire extended family together, with support for up to 100 participants in every meeting, which can even be upgraded to 500 if you’re willing to pay for the service.
That said, you’d have to have a pretty massive group you want to get together, since Group FaceTime supports up to 32 participants, and Facebook Messenger can handle up to 50. WhatsApp is considerably more limiting, however, since you can only have four users on a video call.
Zoom is first and foremost a meeting app more than a video calling app, which has its pros and cons, but one big advantage is the ability to schedule meetings and send out links. This can be handy if you want to get a large group of friends or family together at a specific time, since it’s far less “ad hoc” than simply trying to call everybody on FaceTime.
When you schedule a call, whether it’s with one person or 50, everybody gets sent a link, and they can basically log on at any time and be waiting and ready for the call to start at the appointed time. FaceTime doesn’t currently offer any way to make a massive group call without adding each participant one by one, which can be more time-consuming.
Technically speaking, Zoom offers HD video quality — at least on a good day — which means that you’ll potentially get a much better view of your friends and family than many other services can offer, although in our experience FaceTime is usually on par.
However, your mileage is going to vary, and depending on the internet speeds of participants, and the computers being used, it’s rare to get a whole call with flawless HD quality. That said, every video calling app is at the mercy of internet performance, but FaceTime generally seems to be a bit more consistent here, as it more effectively scales down quality on slower connections, whereas Zoom often tries to achieve maximum quality even when it should be able to figure out that it really can’t.
As you can well imagine, the internet is really busy right now with everybody at home either working remotely or watching Netflix. In fact, it’s reached the point where most streaming services have had to reduce their bandwidth to ensure that there’s enough to go around for everybody.
This also means that there’s a good chance that Apple’s FaceTime service has never seen this kind of load before, so your mileage may vary in terms of getting a reliable connection, especially with Group FaceTime calls. Zoom on the other hand has been boasting for years that it plays host to a million meeting participants every day, so it’s already been built to handle the load.
If you’re wondering why your employer seems to love Zoom so much, it’s not only because of the business-facing features like whiteboards and scheduled meetings, but also the fact that Zoom integrates with a ton of other business tools, from Google Calendar to Slack.
If you’re working from home, you’re going to be swimming against the tide to try and convince your boss or co-workers to call you on FaceTime, at least for anything more than quick casual chats.
If you have friends or family in situations where joining a call by video isn’t practical, Zoom also offers the ability for participants to dial in by phone. This may be somewhat limited on the free plan — especially right now with Zoom experiencing increased demand — and availability varies by country, but it’s definitely something that more casual video calling services have no support for at all.
Zoom offers a free plan, but it’s not without tits limitations, the most significant of which is that you’ll only be able to run group meetings — those with three or more participants — for up to 40 minutes. Of course, you can schedule multiple meetings in sequence, but that’s just more of a hassle.
Note that these limits don’t apply to one-on-one meetings, but in most cases we think that you’re better off with FaceTime for those unless you have very specific needs. Naturally there are no time limits on FaceTime or services like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
What About Security?
You’ve probably heard about the security debacle last year with Zoom, which might make you a bit nervous about using the app or having it on your computer. While this wasn’t a good look for Zoom at the time, the good news is that not only has Zoom worked to rectify the problem, but Apple also made changes in response to this to tighten things down in macOS. So it’s safe to say that the issue has now been resolved in such a way that it’s not likely to recur.
To be fair, however, even Apple had a big security flaw with Group FaceTime last year, and while that’s also long been fixed, it makes it hard to point fingers at any one service as being fundamentally any less secure. For the most part, these flaws have been at the client end, allowing unanswered video calls to still go through. The person-to-person connections themselves are encrypted on pretty much all video chat services, so having your calls intercepted isn’t something you’ll need to worry about.
We’re still huge fans of FaceTime, and if all you’re doing is making a call to one or two friends who are iPhone users, it’s as easy as making a traditional phone call, and if your friends don’t have an Apple device to receive a FaceTime call, you can still turn to other options like Facebook Messenger for casual calling for one or two people.
For work-at-home or learn-at-home solutions, however, you’re still more likely to find yourself using Zoom whether you like it or not. Even private tutors are turning to Zoom for things like online music lessons due to its ubiquitous and somewhat anonymous cross-platform support — it’s simply much easier than trying to figure out what tools each student has available.
In the same way, Zoom can also be a great solution if you have a large group of friends who are all on different platforms and you want to get them together in a single chat, since users don’t need to sign up for an account to use Zoom, and the necessary pieces all get installed in a couple of clicks. So if you have some friends who have iPhones and refuse to use Facebook, while others tote Android phones and use a mixture of Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, you could find that Zoom is the most “frictionless” solution for getting everyone together in one virtual place.