A useful new feature Apple introduced at its developer conference will allow multiple parties to participate in a FaceTime group video chat and could be competition for Google Hangouts Chat and Skype for Business.

Before, only two people could participate in a FaceTime video chat. Now, when iOS 12 rolls out later this year, up to 32 people can participate in Group FaceTime. This will make it a strong possibility that the enterprise will find more uses for iOS devices as workplace tools.

Many business groups use Google Hangouts Chat or Skype to communicate with multiple people at once, and the new FaceTime feature will allow for Apple to be a direct competitor to those collaboration tools.

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“This year FaceTime is going to take a big leap forward,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, at Apple’s WWDC in San Jose, CA. “It helps us deepen our connection with people wherever they are.”

Group FaceTime chat is a good way for Apple to move into the enterprise, according to Tyler Koblasa, CEO of CloudApp.

“If Apple hopes to expand its workplace offerings, then increasing the number of people who can be on a FaceTime call is a great first step for the company to move further into this space. Apple is already good at creating continuity for consumers across their devices, and business users would likely want this capability expanded to include other areas like video conferencing,” Koblasa said.

Being able to use video conferencing in a meeting is essential for a mobile workplace. “As workforces become increasingly more agile, they will become more dependent on cross-team collaboration and communication tools. By encouraging teams to use cameras during conference calls, it will help connect the employees with one another, improve focus and engagement with the discussion, and let users see and react to others’ responses, creating a more natural dialogue. This kind of offering from Apple could be the first step to competing on a larger scale for business clients in terms of video conferencing and collaboration,” Koblasa said.

Skip Chilcott, global head of product marketing for IR, said, “For small organizations, FaceTime group calling will definitely add a strong option for small group no or low-cost options for real-time communication such as Google Hangouts, Skype consumer, and others that can handle small group video chat.”

Larger companies will likely still rely on other team collaboration software options, he said.

“Small groups within larger enterprises will still need the higher enterprise-grade quality with additional capabilities like document/team collaboration, desktop sharing, and corporate directory integration; and with the management and security provided by the corporate IT group. Examples of this are Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx teams, and Slack to name a few,” Chilcott said.

One key element will be whether employees have Apple devices, according to Paul Bischoff, tech expert and privacy advocate at Comparitech.com.

“I don’t think FaceTime group calling will replace Hangouts for the simple fact that Hangouts can be accessed in a web browser, whereas FaceTime requires an Apple device. If your whole team has Apple devices, then it could work, but most office environments use a mix of different devices. Because Hangouts is web-based, it can be used in a web browser on any device, even if the person has never used the device before. That flexibility just isn’t available in FaceTime,” Bischoff said.

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