Technical Difficulties

Like a normal tech podcast, but broken.

Gabe and Erik talk about all the fun ways to video conference with your family over the holidays.

Ever tried to get your family on a video chat?

This week Erik and Gabe tackle the challenge of setting up video chat with extended family members. They discussed the relative merits of the big three protocols but weirdly, Erik balked at the idea of setting up WebEx for Grandma.


FaceTime has likely made video conferencing as easy as it can be, but that doesn’t make it easy.

“Grandma sometimes doesn’t have her iPhone connected to her wifi”

  • iChat was the way many of us first got the family connected, and though it did fail in weird ways due to its polyglot tendencies, the transition to FaceTime saw the loss of some unique features such as multiparty video and iChat Theater
  • If your video conference list consists only of people in the Apple ecosystem, it’s a no-brainer


FaceTime is one of those services that just works. However, it requires everyone to be on an Apple device. Once upon a time Apple promised an open standard for FaceTime, but 3 years later, I don’t expect it to happen.

While the rate of successful connections seems to be dropping the quality while connected is stunning. With the blessing of the mobile carriers, many users can even use FaceTime over a cellular network, making it a solid virtual-presence service.

Other than requiring an Apple device, the main downside to FaceTime is the lack of group video conferencing. This is real disappointment when attempting to use the service for family conferencing. It’s not so much a conference as a huddle.

  • FaceTime is much easier to pick up and use since it’s tied to iCloud, but the service isn’t as discoverable as we might prefer. Some will initiate a call from within the FaceTime app, and some initiate one directly from a contact. A nice feature of both of these options is that you can set favorites up to be either audio or video.


That’s so weird, Erik and Gabe do the very same thing in completely different ways…

  • Audio-only FaceTime may be the first step towards breaking free of cell phone voice plans, but right now it isn’t a very good way to make a call, due to the length of time it takes to connect the call (very important), and the lack of usual call features such as voicemail (kinda important).
  • Rumor has it that FaceTime audio is coming to the Mac with OS X 10.9.2


As Gabe pointed out, a patent troll ruined FaceTime.


Gabe and Erik discuss the popular alternative to use when you don’t have all-Apple participants.


Did Erik say that we can’t control whether or not everyone is on iOS? I’ll leave this right here.

  • There’s a lot to like about Skype with its support for virtually all conceivable platforms, along with audio, video, and text protocols. It even has easy file sharing and screen sharing.
  • What Skype does lack (recently) is consistent quality, fit and finish. Skype causes podcasters endless anguish, but nearly all of them use it because there isn’t anything better.

  • Beyond podcasters, many people use Skype to replace their phone in some situations. Erik said that he uses it as a work phone, and you can Skype to a regular phone number for a modest fee. Skype is ubiquitous in many countries where Apple isn’t, so it can be a good way to connect to international friends and family.
  • The main drawback to Skype on mobile is that it can take a long time to activate the app in order to receive the call, and it is easy to miss the notification that you have an incoming call.

“Let’s change the subject”

Google Hangouts

Erik and Gabe close out the big three with Google Hangouts.

“Does it still look like it was designed by a drunk colorblind schizophrenic?”

  • Hangouts seem to be tailor-made for multiparty projects, and there are many far-flung teams that use this as a way to conduct their meetings.

Not the target audience

There is another Hangouts page here. I almost didn’t make it out of there alive.

  • Hangouts relies on a Google+ account and its organization is built around Circles. In other words, it can be a challenge setting up a Hangout with anyeone who gives you a blank stare when you use “Google” and “Hangout” in the same sentence.

Video chat as a medium

Now that we can video conference, do we even want to? For many of us growing up, the videophone always seemed to be future-tech, but there no longer seems to be a “wow” factor here.

The Future

“This was back when you had a cord on your phone”

  • Whether it’s stalled technological advancement or an simply over-estimating the demand for video conferencing, the younger generation seems to be more interested in “older” ways to chat, made new with features like stickers. Smart people are keeping an eye on this.

The Great Emojification

The shift in ideal conversation from moving pictures on a screen to text-based threads littered with jargon and emoji actually seems to follow the set of rules coined by a great thinker, which in this case means that there is nothing exciting about video chat – I’ve seen all that before. Now, if you can pepper your prose with hearts and anthropomorphized feces, you’re really in the future.

Hashtag winky face

Which device to use

Whether video conferencing is futuristic or not, it’s a great way to share your world with someone. The device used to chat is very important to the feeling of the conversation.

  • The iPad seems very well suited to the “receiving end” of the conversation, and may be the best device to recommend for that purpose. When considering the “sending end” and children, a computer will cause the focus on the conversation, while the iPhone is perfect for a child to show off her world. An iPad may perfectly split the difference.
  • It appears that not everyone would like to gather around the computer in order to talk to family.

“You know how I am about keeping my desk clean”

  • Maybe the television is the next step. Young kids can run around in view of the doting family, while adults talk. Slightly older kids can shift into the the conversation mode. Right now there doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution. You can place a laptop in a convenient position, or you can use a Mac Mini or HTPC connected to your old webcam.

State of the Art

  • Other than cobbling together a solution of your own, or purchasing an Xbox One and using the Kinect with built-in Skype, you are forced to wait for the certain Apple television with built-in FaceTime Camera.

“I’m not talking to you about this”

Until next week

Well, that’s all for this week. If you have anything that you’d like to add to or correct in the show notes you can find me on Twitter @potatowire or feel free to send an email to me at potatowire dot com.