Steve Jobs Sometimes Lies to You

July 27, 2011 holman

I love Apple. I love Apple so much that if someone gave me a bulletproof vest made out of MacBook Airs, I’d strap it to my back and take a bullet to my chest to protect my precious aluminum friends.

But Steve’s lying to us when it comes to FaceTime.

“And we’re going to take it all the way. We’re going to the standards bodies, starting tomorrow, and we’re going to make FaceTime an open industry standard.” Steve Jobs, 2010 WWDC Keynote

Steve went on stage and announced this to the world. Rumor is he also simultaneously announced it to the majority of the FaceTime team, who until that moment hadn’t yet been informed that their work was going to be standardized.

There’s certainly a possibility that FaceTime may still be ratified as an open standard. Maybe Steve just misspoke when he gave concrete dates and steps to open up the FaceTime protocol. Maybe it happens the day after I publish this blog post. But regardless of the reason, we are stuck here more than a year later, with FaceTime siloed strictly to Apple devices and (to my knowledge) zero standards bodies reviewing a proposed FaceTime protocol spec.


If FaceTime were open, we’d certainly see people working on integrating it. Within a day of Jobs’ announcement, Skype had said that they were interested in the technology available through FaceTime. I’d wager good money that some of the Android-based phones would add FaceTime as an option. And the indie market would have a blast… depending on how “open” FaceTime would be, I’m sure we’d be building FaceTime into Hubot, our chat room robot at GitHub.

Increasing the number of FaceTime-equipped devices means that FaceTime moves from a novelty that you use when you stumble into a bar and find out it has free Wi-Fi, to a serious communication medium that can start to supplant telephone calls themselves.

“Open” isn’t just a buzz word

“Open” isn’t just a buzz word. People like the word “open”. Marketers love it. It sounds inviting. It sounds safe. But it’s fundamentally an important concept in computer science. Open source, open guidelines, transparent motivations. These concepts actually mean something to us.

If a company goes on record and says they’re going to open up, we need to hold their feet to the fire. We need to make it clear that you can’t garner goodwill by embracing openness while at the same time not delivering on that promise.

The stakes are just too high not to pursue this admirable goal. To be truly happy, I need to be able to FaceTime in ASCII from my scientific calculator. Or mount a FaceTime camera to my dog. Or run it through a Visual Basic GUI and give my recipient a really huge nose. The point is: open is open, and FaceTime is not. Apple needs to fix that or fess up.