iOS 12.1: Group FaceTime Comes to iPhones, but There’s a Catch
Apple released iOS 12.1 on Tuesday, bringing 32-person Group FaceTime to its mobile platforms for the first time. But while the company’s major update to its video communication system answers a long-awaited call, Apple’s approach means some consumers may be left out of the running.
The iOS 12 User Guide, published by Apple on the iBooks Store, contains a line that suggests users may need to upgrade. The section, as noted by MacRumors, explains that “iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus support only audio Group FaceTime calls.” An Apple support document notes that users on these devices can still join group video calls, but they will join as audio-only participants. The restriction also extends to the iPad Mini 2 and 3, original iPad Air and the latest-generation of iPod touch. This is despite the fact that these devices all run iOS 12, an update touted as running on the same devices as iOS 11.
The restriction is something of a disappointment, especially considering Apple’s stated aims to make iPhones last longer. iOS 12 comes with a number of speed boosts for older phones, aimed at keeping users on iPhone 5S and iPhone 6 happy. Apple vice president of environment Lisa Jackson said at the iPhone XS launch that “because they last longer, you can keep using them, and keeping using them is the best thing for the planet.” Unfortunately, these users will miss out on a new form of communication, necessitating a switch to devices that launched in September 2015 or later.
The book also states that Group FaceTime may not be available in all regions. This is likely a reference to the fact that FaceTime is not available in the United Arab Emirates. Apple was reportedly in talks with the government back in May, alongside Microsoft whose Skype service is also banned, to remove these restrictions. Apple’s service was also previously unavailable in Saudi Arabia, but this was reversed with the launch of iOS 11.3.
Apple’s next set of devices, the Face ID-touting iPad Pro, is set to be the latest device to support Group FaceTime when it arrives in consumers’ hands on November 7.
Beyond big video calls, Group FaceTime also offers a number of handy features over competitors like Skype.