Tucked away in a litany of incremental improvements and tweaks, Apple has quietly dropped a bomb. Its name is FaceTime Audio, and it’s a lot more disruptive than you might at first think.
FaceTime Audio is pretty much what it sounds like: FaceTime without the video. So, why should you care? It’s just another feature, right? Well, essentially, this allows you to make phone calls over WiFi.
And that’s paving the way to have an iPhone where you don’t have to buy a contract. In fact, it’s paving the way for an “iPhone” which isn’t really a “phone” in any reasonable sense.
Networks that use VoIP and WiFi for calls are already being experimented with, but the limitations are fairly obvious: Not everybody has a WiFi signal they can use to make calls, and swapping between networks on the fly can be tricky. As WiFi spreads this will change, of course, which is part of the reason Comcast is so eager to have you rent a router and become your very own WiFi access point.
In other words, FaceTime Audio is being designed to, slowly but surely, sever the dependence of Apple on carriers to sell their products. It may not be a big deal now, but in the coming years it might be one of the most important features in iOS.