What To Use For Video Calls Instead Of Facetime

Image: Kevin Grieve, Unsplash

Last week, Apple rolled back one of the key FaceTime features that was supposed to drop with iOS 12 and macOS Mojave this spring: group video chat. The feature, which would let you and up to 31 friends not-quite-make-eye-contact through their phones and laptops, was removed from the beta versions of each OS last week, and will now reportedly launch at a later date.

This delay is a bummer. As our friends at Gizmodo pointed out when the feature was announced, Facetime feels very intuitive, and being able to have giant group calls would only make it that much more compelling for active socialites and work conference calls.

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Despite that, this isn't really much of a loss, because there are already a ton of apps and services you can use to have group video calls on your iPhone or Mac. Below, your best options to play around with while Apple keeps us waiting:

Facebook Messenger (Web, iOS, Android)

Maximum number of callers: 50 (six onscreen at a time)

If you have the Facebook Messenger app, you already have one of the most universal video chat apps. Since there's a good chance you're already connected to the people with whom you'd like to start a call through Facebook, it's an easy way corral people on a cross-platform app almost everyone already uses.

To start, just set up a group chat in Messenger and click the camera icon to turn the group text chat into a group video chat.

Messenger is easy to use, but it isn't perfect. The service supports up to 50 people on a single video call, but Messenger only shows six screens including the person currently speaking (or whose dog is barking directly into their phone), so the grandiose nature of a single giant video chat may not translate onto your screen.

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Google Hangouts (Web, iOS, Android)

Maximum number of callers: 25 (10 onscreen at a time)

In my own experience, Hangouts seems to be the go-to video chat service for people who like to set up casual group video calls. Like Facebook Messenger, Hangouts has an advantage in that lots of people have Google accounts and the service has been around for a while, so there's a good chance people are familiar with it.

One thing that sets Hangouts apart from most of the other major video call services is that you can share your screen for free. (Skype and Facebook hide it behind paid services for businesses). Another advantage Google has on Facebook — Hangouts shows more participants onscreen, up to 10 at a time, including the loudest speaker.

Skype (Web, Windows, Mac, iOS, Android)

Maximum number of callers: 25 (10 onscreen at a time)

Skype, another longtime go-to for video chat devotees, also offers group video calls for up to 25 people, showing 10 screens including the current speaker. Like Messenger and Hangouts, you can easily transition any group chat into a video call with the push of a button.

Lots of people have access to Skype — it comes bundled with all Windows 10 PCs and most versions of Microsoft Office 365 — but it does come with some odd restrictions. Skype limits video chat to four hours per call, and caps your usage 100 hours per month and 10 hours per day.

Beyond that, Skype's association with business and productivity has always left the service feeling a little more "formal" than many of the services on this list. Though it's really just as easy to set up a chat in Skype as it is in Hangouts or Messenger, the act of moving to a dedicated app, apart from other aspects of your digital life, feels like an extra step. That could be a good thing, depending on the nature of your call, though.

Snapchat (iOS, Android)

Maximum number of callers: 16

The ephemeral photo-sharing service added group video calls earlier this year. Like Facebook Messenger and Hangouts, you simply have to make a group chat, then press a button to start a video call. Snapchat doesn't support large chats like the last two services — with only 16 maximum participants at once — but it it has all the AR filters, drawing, and other fun features you have when using any other part of Snapchat.

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Discord (Mac/Windows/Linux, iOS, Android)

Maximum number of callers: 10

A relative newcomer, gaming-centric chat app Discord is primarily used for voice and text chat, but it does offer a video call support for up to 10 people. This feature was only available on desktops and laptops for some time, but just rolled out on iOS and Android this month!

Discord is the only service on our list besides Google Hangouts that offers screen-sharing (though only on PC and Mac, not mobile). That said, it doesn't allow for as many callers, so it may not be the place for a big guild gathering — on video, at least.

Houseparty (Mac, iOS, Android)

Maximum number of callers: eight

Remember Meerkat? It was a live video broadcasting service that made waves for a hot minute in 2015. Within months, Twitter ate the company's proverbial lunch with its live video platform, Periscope, so Meerkat changed direction and made Houseparty, a video chat app people can use to "hang out."

Primarily made for iOS and Android, but also available on macOS, Houseparty simulates the act of "bumping" into people online by letting you jump into a friend's chat mid-stream. Of course, you can also just use it to set up normal video calls.

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Instagram (iOS, Android)

Maximum number of callers: four

It isn't going to power your Oscars watch party, but the 'Gram does offer video chat for you and up to three friends. Messaging in Instagram has gotten increasing popular — simpler than Facebook Messenger, and doesn't require a separate app — so it may be a good place for a casual chat.

Instagram adds an interesting wrinkle when it comes to video chat: You can seamlessly scroll through your Instagram feed during the call. With such a small group that seems kind of... rude. But hey, you do you.

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WhatsApp (Mac/Windows, iOS, Android)

Maximum number of callers: four

WhatsApp, Facebook's other popular direct messaging service, also allows up to four people to sit in a video call. WhatsApp isn't integrated into a larger set of services like Messenger, Hangouts, or Skype, doesn't support a large number of callers, or offer any kind of screen-sharing.

It's probably the blandest of any option on our list, but there is one feature that makes WhatsApp stand out (aside from having more than 1.5 billion users as of January): WhatsApp claims that all of its video calls feature end-to-end encryption, just like its text messaging. If FaceTime's built-in encryption is part of why you're excited for Apple's group video chat, there is a secure option to hold you over.


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