Legal battle may be to blame for Apple breaking its FaceTime promise

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FaceTime
Apple's open wish for FaceTime never happened.
Screenshot: Apple

At WWDC, Apple revealed that it will finally make it possible to do FaceTime group calls for up to 32 people. That’s great news — provided that all your friends, family and co-workers use Apple devices.

But it didn’t have to be like this. Back in 2010, when Steve Jobs introduced FaceTime, he made a big point about how it was set to become an open industry standard that could be used by Apple’s competitors, as well as Apple. Nearly a decade on, that still hasn’t happened. And now a theory has emerged as to why.

In 2010, Steve Jobs said the following: “Now, FaceTime is based on a lot of open standards — H.264 video, AAC audio, and a bunch of alphabet soup acronyms — and we’re going to take it all the way. We’re going to the standards bodies starting tomorrow, and we’re going to make FaceTime an open industry standard.”

Are patent battles to blame?

Instead, FaceTime remains a locked-in part of the Apple ecosystem. According to an interesting concept put forward by CNet writer Sean Hollister, the reason could relate to an ongoing lawsuit which made Apple change how FaceTime works to avoid infringing on patents held by VirnetX. This ongoing battle with VirnetX has cost Apple hundreds of millions of dollars over the years.

As a result of this, Apple introduced “relay servers” to make the technology function as opposed to allowing phones to directly communicate with one another. The CNet article notes that: “Presumably, someone would have to pay for those servers, and/or figure out a way for them to talk to Google or Microsoft or other third-party servers if FaceTime were going to be truly open.”

It’s a shame that a solution couldn’t be reached, though. Skype and Google Hangouts now dominate the business video calling space, which could have been Apple’s.

Will Apple finally use FaceTime group chat to push ahead with its open industry standard promise? Nothing was said about it at WWDC, and most people have forgotten the promise twas ever made. It would certainly be pretty neat, though.