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Inside FaceTime for Mac

Earlier today Apple announced FaceTime for Mac and released a first beta version for download. Despite some initial download issues, the beta is now up and available here. I’ve tested the app on my MacBook Pro by calling a couple of friends on their iPhone and MacBooks, and it works really well.

It’s a first beta though, and there are some unpolished areas and unfinished features Apple is likely going to address in the future updates.

First, it works like this:

FaceTime is easy to set up on your Mac. All you need is an Apple ID and an email address and you’re ready to roll. To start a video call with your best friend, just find her entry in the Contacts list. FaceTime works perfectly with Address Book so you don’t have to enter your contacts from scratch. Click her phone number if you want to call her iPhone 4. To call her iPod touch or Mac, use her email address. An invitation pops up on her screen. When she accepts, the video call begins. And there you are, face to face. Mac to iPhone, iPod touch, or Mac.

The app gets access to your default Address Book to grab contacts’ names, emails and phone numbers. You can’t add new contacts directly from the FaceTime app, and that’s something we’d like to see fixed soon. You can, however, add contacts to your Favorites, which are different from the Address Book’s Favorites and get their own tab in the app itself. The FaceTime has a translucent black look and grabs many UI elements from iOS, a taste of things to come in Lion.

Two interesting things we noticed digging into the app: the project name of the software seems to be “Monaco” and there’s an ApplePushService.framework included in the package. Perhaps it’s what keeps the app running even when it’s closed (you can indeed receive calls at your MacBook if the FaceTime isn’t open and running), but I like to think there’s more than that coming. Perhaps notifications on a MacBook?

The app works, but it’s rough. Contacts list missing features aside (no sign of syncing with AIM, GTalk or Facebook buddy lists), the preferences are very limited (and iOS-like) and scrolling feels weird sometimes. The app hangs here and there for a second, but video quality is good. When in video call mode, you can move the tiny window you get for your front-facing camera just like on the iPhone. You know what feels really weird, though? The fact that you can adjust the orientation of the FaceTime window on a Mac. There’s a little arrow, in fact, that lets you virtually turn your screen in landscape or portrait, and that’s pretty unnecessary. Why not just allow for a single orientation on desktop Macs?

Now that FaceTime for Mac is out in the wild, this is the feature I’d pay to see: keyboard support. And media attachments. The future of FaceTime’s interoperability between mobile devices and computers is promising.

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