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Google, Microsoft Fight over Standards to Rival Apple's FaceTime

August 14, 2012 | Telepresence Options
FaceTime_Standardsresized.pngBy Daniel Eran Dilger,

Almost two years after Apple introduced FaceTime, Google and Microsoft are battling to introduce their own video chat acquisitions as new Internet web standards, while FaceTime remains proprietary to Apple.

FaceTime, two years later


Apple's Steve Jobs first introduced FaceTime video conferencing in June 2010 at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference as a key new feature of iPhone 4, noting at the time that Apple intended to release the technology as an open specification that other mobile vendors could license to create compatible video conferencing clients.

The company subsequently added FaceTime support to its new camera-bearing iPod touch released that September, announced that FaceTime was coming to the Mac in October (delivering it in February) and brought FaceTime to the new iPad 2 the next spring. FaceTime became so central to Apple's marketing that the company even began calling its iOS and Mac webcams "FaceTime cameras."

Now two years old, Apple's FaceTime feature has never become an openly published standard as Jobs promised it would be. While the technology is based upon a series of open standards, interoperability with third party implementations is not currently possible, for reasons described below.

Google and Microsoft are now wrangling to position two different video conferencing standards (each based on acquired video chat technologies) as open specifications with the potential to rival FaceTime. Google's is named WebRTC, while Microsoft just submitted a proposal named CU-RTC-Web.

Open standards in Apple's proprietary FaceTime

Apple has promoted the fact that it used a series of open protocols to create FaceTime: it incorporates the International Standard Organization's MPEG AAC and H.264 audio and video codecs; support for the IETF's (Internet Engineering Task Force) SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) for call setup; its RTP (Real-time Transport Protocol) and SRTP (Secure RTP) for encrypted video delivery; and its ICE (Interactive Connectivity Establishment), TURN (Traversal Using Relays around NAT) and STUN (Session Traversal Utilities for NAT) for handling firewalls and NAT (Network Address Translation, which commonly used in home routers to create private IP addresses but which creates a hurdle for video chat clients).


Despite using Internet standards to develop FaceTime, however, the detailed inner workings of the feature have never been published, neither as a privately licensed technology nor as an open standard (with or without associated licensing fees).

Individuals examining the communications FaceTime uses have learned that, among other things, the system uses Apple's own unique security system for user authentication rather than relying upon SIP's built in features.

Before ever starting a videoconferencing session, Apple checks to see if the client device can prove itself as legitimate. If it can't, it gets disconnected. Apple's FaceTime client apps are hardwired to Apple's FaceTime accounts, similar to how Google's Gmail app is optimized to only work with one type of email account: Google's.

Apple's FaceTime authentication relies upon on a client-side security key cryptographically signed by Apple, making it as impossible to create an unauthorized third party FaceTime client as it would be to create a third party App Store accessible to other iPhone users (or to force Gmail to access email directly from Microsoft's Exchange Server).





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