Patent Woes Could be One Reason Why Apple's Keeping FaceTime to Itself

By Tom Pritchard on at

Apple's had FaceTime around for quite a few years now, letting iPhone, iPad, and Mac users video call each other without having to resort to a third party service that might be more willing to siphon off their personal details to sell to advertisers. The problem is Apple has kept FaceTime to itself, meaning users on Android, Windows, or Linux can't get in on the action. Some have speculated that patent issues may be responsible.

During the WWDC keynote speech on Monday, it was clear Apple was upping the ante, so to speak, and doing its best to make sure iPhone users aren't tempted to use things like WhatsApp to video call each other. The problem is that's kind of worthless when half of phone users use Android, which doesn't have access to FaceTime services. The kicker here is that when Steve Jobs announced FaceTime in 2010 he promised that it would be an "open industry standard". In other words, it wouldn't be an Apple exclusive service (jump to 2:44)

But so far that doesn't seem to have come close to happening, and CNET speculates that one of the reasons may be at least partly to blame. Back when FaceTime was launched Apple ended up facing accusations of patent infringement from a company called VirnetX. The resulting lawsuit focused on FaceTime, iMessage, and Apple's VPN on Demand, and is still going on to this day - forcing Apple to change the way FaceTime works as a result. While VirnetX has been referred to as a patent troll, that hasn't stopped the court process from awarding the company two separate chunks of cash - £354.1 million and £230 million.

So FaceTime ended up working by passing through a relay server, rather than having the phones communicate directly. If FaceTime was going to be an open platform, companies would likely have to pay for access to those servers, and someone would have to put a team together to make sure the different systems were able to communicate with one another. Plus without the open standard thing, FaceTime would be an awful lot harder to adopt elsewhere.

But that's one possibility, and it doesn't discount the fact that Apple might have changed its mind and decided to keep FaceTime all to itself. After all if it has a video call service that isn't broken and terrible like some the competition (*cough* Skype *cough*), keeping it all in-house might encourage people to switch to iOS and macOS. Then again, if Apple is so fond of privacy and improving communication as has claimed, it can't really just cut out half of the population from that - especially if it can wrangle some money out of Google and Microsoft in the process. [CNET via Ubergizmo]