Friday, February 25, 2011

FaceTime: AutoAnswer, URL, desktop 1 click call

FaceTime for Mac ($1) has an undocumented AutoAnswer feature ...

10.6: Enable AutoAnswer in FaceTime for the Mac - Mac OS X Hints

... defaults write AutoAcceptInvitesFrom -array-add +15205551212

... defaults write AutoAcceptInvitesFrom -array-add ...

... defaults delete AutoAcceptInvitesFrom ...

The author used the "strings" command to uncover these options.

I've been looking for this for years [1] (die iChat die!), so, even though I generally avoid undocumented terminal entered preferences, I immediately set this up on my home iMac. I set it to AutoAnswer calls from my iPhone. Then I started up FaceTime and turned my screensaver on (screen is then locked) and placed a call.

With FaceTime on, a green light showed next to my iMac's "iSight".

The screensaver didn't change, but my desktop answered. My phone displayed the video input from the desktop and audio worked.

A few things to keep in mind as you test this ...

  • Preferences are user specific. On a multi-user machine you have to enable it separately on each account.
  • If FaceTime isn't running nothing happens.
  • If the FaceTime window is showing the user gets a brief opportunity to cancel the call.
  • If the FaceTime window is hidden it will answer, but there's no UI indication that a video chat is working.
  • You can configure FaceTime to run on startup.

I'll be testing this out over the next few weeks, then I have to see if I can persuade my elderly parents that this is something worth enabling on their Mac. It would require an upgrade to 10.6, I think I'd left their machine on 10.5.

For an elderly user, or for anyone who wants a very simple way to create call you can create clickable desktop shortcuts or links in a web page ...

In Safari's address bar, type in one of the following URLs:

  • facetime:// appleid
  • facetime://email@address
  • facetime://phone#

... select that URL in the address bar and drag it to the desktop.

When you do this you get a very dull file. Use IMG2ICNS (Free) to turn a photograph of the person you want to call into the file icon. I did this for my mother then put the icon with my picture on her desktop.

[1] Google could never come up with a decent control UI for Google Video Chat.

See also:

PS. When reviewing some of these old links, I was struck by how many years we've been trying to get useable 1:1 videoconferencing on the net. We're talking at least 13 years of repeated failure, with only modest recent success with Skype and Google Video Chat. Apple has failed repeatedly. I wonder if this time they'll push it through, but I've thought we were close before.

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