Video calling

The growth and use of video calling apps, over the last few years, has been phenomenal.

The attraction of contacting people, face to face (electronically of course), for free in comparison to voice calls or messages that often cost money or come out of an allowance is easy to see.

There are a multitude of apps that allow video calls, far too many to describe, in detail, on a couple of pages on a website (you would probably need a whole website to do justice), so I will just discuss briefly the more popular ones.

Video calling is relatively easy and convenient, but as with all things it’s wise to give consideration to the mechanics of it.

Firstly a strong connection to WiFi is essential. Yes you can use a data connection, but given the many possible influences that can disrupt a mobile a mobile signal that can at best make the call of poor quality or disrupt so much as to make it impossible.

The next consideration is the device to use to make the call. Video calls can be made on any modern device, most devices with the desktop computers have a camera and microphone inbuilt. Where either of these functions is unavailable an external device will need to be obtained (many external cameras have inbuilt microphones and are quite inexpensive). Due to the small screen sizes of mobile phones they are only really suited to one to one calls.

The location where the call is to be made is also important.

Modern device cameras and microphones are very sensitive and will pick up any background and background noise. Therefore be aware of anything around you that you might prefer others don’t see or hear – Some apps allow the use of an artificial background to keep things private to the viewer. Other electrical equipment nearby, such as a mobile phone, can cause interference.

The other consideration is the natural or artificial light where you are physically positioned – If it’s too dark the other people on the call may not be able to see you clearly.

It’s probably best to make calls away from public areas for your own privacy and so as to not disturb others.

When we are separated from family and friends, be it through distance or lockdowns, humans have found ways to keep in touch.

There are a multitude of apps (an app is an abbreviation for application, which in computer speak is a small program that runs on your computer, tablet or phone that carries out a specific function) that allows you to make a video call. 

There are far too many different apps about for me to describe them individually in a short document like this, but very broadly they fall into two types:

  • Social Media – apps that started out as a means to communicate with someone using a keyboard, then someone added video calling
  • Video calling – apps whose main purpose is to allow you to make a video call. Some also allow voice calls only.

There are a few very important things to note about using video calling.

  • The person you are calling must be using the same app as you. As far as I’m aware there isn’t an app that will talk to another (for example WhatsApp won’t communicate with Facebook).
  • Some apps only work on a particular operating system – E.g. FaceTime only works on Apple devices.
  • Unless you have a good data contract with your phone provider, you should only do video calls over a WiFi network.
  • You will have to create an account with the app owner, and agree to their conditions, before you can use the app in question.

Naturally, as is the way of the world, there are positives and negatives about using these apps.

  • Positive – using your WiFi network these calls are free (unless you are one of the very few who still has a dial up internet connection). If you don’t use WiFi then the video call will eat, quite quickly, into your monthly data allowance. WiFi is also best because it’s a more stable signal
  • Positive – Only you and your family can hear your call. Only exhibitionists stand in public areas trying to have such a call
  • Negative – If you use a social media app to make the call then the social media company is aware of it and it builds up their knowledge of you
  • Negative – Some apps advertise that a member has video calling capabilities, and unless you restrict your security settings you may get contacted by some strange people
  • Positive and negative – All apps allow you to have more than just the two of you on the call. For example, Microsoft Teams allows 20 people on a call. That could be difficult to manage on a six-inch phone screen.
  • Positive and negative – The caller can see you and you can see them. Just hold that thought.
  • Possibly negative – Because the cameras in devices now are very good and some near DSLR standard, they will pick up a lot of details, so maybe keep private papers out of site.
  • Possibly positive – When someone makes a video call to you, you will see a picture of them (and of course if you call them they can see you), so there is always the opportunity to reject the call and blame the signal if it’s someone you don’t want to talk to.

Whilst there are negatives with video calling, they are very useful, and add personality to a call which can be a boon in our current situation.

As I mentioned previously there are a multitude of apps available, far too many for me to describe here (but they all work in roughly the same way). For the purpose of this document, I will describe four apps. Two Social Media and two Video calling. They are – WhatsApp, Facebook, FaceTime and Google Duo.

Apple FaceTime

FaceTime lets you make video calls to people who are on your Apple devices contact list (including Apple Mac computers). It’s important to note that FaceTime only works on Apple’s products – You cannot contact someone who has an Android device (including Amazon Fire devices).

When you make the call, you will see the other person’s face and they will see yours.

Unlike some other video calling apps, FaceTime doesn’t have it’s own contact list it uses your Apple devices existing contacts app (note that this is the Apple contacts app – It won’t pickup contacts from any other 3rd party app).

As a refresher to add a contact in the Apple Contacts app, you open the app and tap on the “+” symbol and enter the contact details, tapping done when finished.

When you want to FaceTime a contact, open the FaceTime app and in the search, box types the contacts name. If a contact doesn’t show up then, either they don’t have an Apple device, or they haven’t enabled FaceTime. 

A way to check whether a contact is setup to use FaceTime is to find them in the Apple contacts app and if there is a blue video camera icon next to their name, they are setup to use FaceTime

To enable FaceTime, open the FaceTime app and sign in with your Apple ID. You can also do this from Settings > FaceTime. 

If you’re using an iPhone, FaceTime automatically registers your phone number. To also register your email address on your iPhone, go to Settings > FaceTime > Use your Apple ID for FaceTime, and sign in with your Apple ID.

If you’re using an iPad or iPod touch, register your email address by tapping Settings > FaceTime > Use your Apple ID for FaceTime, and sign in with your Apple ID.

To make a FaceTime call you need the person’s phone number or registered email address (that is the email address they sign into their Apple account). 

There are a few ways to make a FaceTime call:

  • In the FaceTime app, tap the plus button  and type the person’s phone number or email address. Tap the number or address, then tap Audio  or Video .
  • If you have the person’s phone number or email address saved in your Contacts, you can start typing their name and tap the name when it appears. Then tap Audio  or Video 
  • You can also start a FaceTime video call from your iPhone during a phone call. Tap the FaceTime icon in the Phone app to switch to FaceTime.
  • Whilst in a FaceTime call you can add in another person to the call, from the call, tap add icon, Tap Add Person, Enter the contact’s name, phone number, or email. Tap Add Person to FaceTime. A FaceTime call can support up to 32 participants (including yourself).

When someone calls you via FaceTime, their name will appear at the top of the screen and at the bottom will be a red and green button. Tap the green button to accept the call, press the red button to reject the call or to end the call during a video call session.

Google Duo

Duo is an app that works on both Android and Apple iOS devices, unlike FaceTime which only works on Apple devices.

If you are using it on a Apple device you need to set it up – Just download it from the Apple store and during setup all the permissions it requests.  These permissions include taking pictures, taking video, record audio, access your contacts and allow Duo to send and receive texts so that you can send invites to others and read verification texts. Type in the number of your device and you will receive a verification text with a code in it. Once received just enter the code in Duo and you are ready to use the app.

To make a Duo call on an Android device:

  • Open the Duo app, then either tap the contacts button, or enter the person’s name in the search box below the button (if the person isn’t in your contact app then just dial their phone number (in some instances you may have to enter the recipients Country Code).
  • Choose video or voice call
  • Duo allows for up to 8 participants (including yourself). Unlike FaceTime you cannot add someone in during a call instead you have to set a group up before the call starts – With the Duo app open place your finger to the right of the contacts button and push the screen up. Tap Create Group, Choose the contacts you want in the call and tap video call. When the call ends you can give a name to the group, save it and this can save time later.
  • To call an existing group, open the app up and swipe the screen up. Under Groups choose to call a group or join a live group, then choose start video call or join video call
  • When done tap end call 
  • If the contact you are calling doesn’t have Duo, you can send them an invite via the app.

Receiving a Duo call

When someone makes a Duo call to you, you will usually see a live video of the person who is calling you – This is a Google Duo feature called “Knock Knock”. The person calling won’t see your face until you accept the call.

To accept an incoming call just swipe up on the screen when prompted.

Making and receiving Duo calls on iOS is identical to the procedure on Android

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is installed from your device’s app store. During installation you will be asked to give it certain permissions. It’s important to allow these otherwise that app may not work properly or at all. You will also need to create an account on the app and agree to the terms and conditions.

Making a video call

  1. Open the chat with the contact you want to video call.
  2. Tap Video Call.

Receive a video call

If your phone is locked, you’ll receive an Incoming video call notification from WhatsApp when someone video calls you. You can:

  • Slide the notification to the left, then tap View > Accept.
    • Alternatively, you can slide the notification to the right to accept the call.
  • Slide the notification to the left, then tap View > Decline.
  • Slide the notification to the left, then tap View > Message to decline the call with a quick message.

If your phone is unlocked, but you’re not In WhatsApp, you’ll receive an Incoming video call notification from WhatsApp when someone video calls you. You can:

  • Pull the notification down, then tap Accept or tap the notification to accept the call.
  • Pull the notification down, then tap Decline.
  • Pull the notification down, then tap Message to decline the call with a quick message.

If your phone is unlocked and you’re in WhatsApp, you’ll see an incoming WHATSAPP VIDEO CALL screen when someone video calls you. You can tap:

  • Accept .
  • Decline .
  • Remind Me and select if you want to be reminded In 1 hour or When I leave.
  • Message to decline the call with a quick message.

Make a group video call

Group calling allows up to eight participants to video call each other using WhatsApp.

  1. Open the chat with one of the contacts you want to video call.
  2. Tap Video Call 
  3. Once the contact accepts the call, tap Add Participant 
  4. Search for or select another contact you want to add to the call.
  5. Tap Add.

Facebook

Like WhatsApp, Facebook needs to be downloaded from your device’s app store. As well as downloading and installing the Facebook app, you will also need to download the Facebook Messenger app (because Facebook on its own doesn’t have video calling capability.

Again, you will need to create an account to use the app and agree to the terms and conditions.

To video chat on Facebook:

  1. Find the contact who you wish to video call and tap on theitr image
  2. Click  at the top right of the screen.
  3. Click  in the top right corner of the chat window. This takes you into the messenger app

If you are called a full screen option will appear that allows you to accept or reject.

To make a group call, you first need to setup and save a group. 

At the top of the screen, next to your profile picture click on the + then select Group. In the search bar at the bottom type in the names of the people you want in the group. After the contact you want appears press enter. Keep doing this until you are finished and click create. This create a group contact and you can call this group just as you would a single contact. 

Zoom

Zoom is a relatively new entrant to the video calling/conferencing sector. It was originally aimed at the business sector, but has become so popular that it is fast overtaking other apps for popularity and they are playing catch up in adding features to their apps to attract users back.

Zoom is quite easy to use, just requiring the download of an app (it’s cross platform so communication is possible across operating systems), and the creation of an account. The free version is perfectly suitable for small groups

The Zoom support website provides a wide range of documents to get you up and running. Given the simplicity and breadth of the support, I have made comments below on setting up, joining and hosting a meeting.

Before you use Zoom – Things to think about.

  • Decide where to sit, if it’s too dark people won’t be able to see you.
  • Mobile Phone off or at least on silent – If on or charging can affect signal. Other electrical devices can interfere. 
  • Be aware what’s in the background as it can be seen. Others moving about in the background may be a distraction – Dependent on your device’s specification, you might be able to set an artificial background, which blocks out what’s behind you.
  • Be aware others can hear what’s being said and may see what’s on screen.
  • Your device needs a microphone and a camera – Ok on most devices but if you have a desktop might need to buy one (you can buy cameras with a microphone built in).
  • Don’t sit too close to the microphone or you might get feedback.
  • Speak clearly and in your normal tone.
  • Connection depends on your broadband and/or WiFi signal and other peoples connection – Expect lags. So… When you click on a control there might be a delay before something happens, don’t be tempted to click again straight away, wait a few seconds or you may get unexpected results. In a similar way you notice that when people move hands/heads it’s a bit jittery. When people talk there may be a synch issue with sound and lips moving.

Zoom can be downloaded for laptops and desktops from https://zoom.us/download It will automatically detect your operating system and supply the latest app. For tablets and phones, you should install from the app store, on your device.

When you first launch Zoom, the app will usually ask permission to use the following:

  • Your device’s camera
  • Your device’s microphone
  • Your device’s storage

Please agree to all of these.

App installed and signed up for an account

The easy way to test everything is to go to a test Zoom meeting.

Go to – https://zoom.us/test on your device’s browser and click on Join

You will get a message about launching the Zoom app installed on your device. Click open zoom.us app.

First you will see a video screen showing yourself. Click join with video (if this screen doesn’t show you have an issue with your camera).

It will ask you if you can hear the ringtone – If you can click yes, if you can’t have a look at your speaker settings – may be the volume is turned down.

Next it will say speak and pause. e.g. say your name and wait. You should hear your voice, if you don’t again check the speaker volume or check your device settings.

When you join a Zoom video conference you must agree any pop-up messages regarding joining using video and sound (audio).

It’s possible that the presenter may mute everyone when the first join, this is up to them.

Zoom controls

Like any app, Zoom has controls that allow you to do or change something. Unfortunately, these controls aren’t always in the same place on different operating systems.

Sometimes a control is hidden and only becomes visible when you scroll down to where the control is – Because of this, wherever possible you should make the Zoom screen as large as possible, this is particularly true on desktops and laptops.

Like most companies, Zoom often make changes to their apps and where a control was positioned last week may not be where it’s positioned next week.

When you open the app on a phone or tablet the screen will look similar to this.

Getting Started with iOS – Zoom Help Center

On a computer, it will look like similar to this

A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated

When in a video call the screen will look like this (though there may be less people in the call). Remember that on a computer, unless you maximise the screen you may not see the controls at the bottom unless you hover the mouse curser over them.

The best video conference and chat apps, compared | WIRED UK

The number of controls available to you, at the bottom of the screen, will depend on whether you are a presenter or attendee. 

For the introduction we will just look at the attendee screen.

The controls you will see are:

  • Mute – This is where you can mute your microphone so that others cannot hear you. Useful if you are in a noisy area. Just unmute to talk. The presenter can mute some or all attendees
  • Stop video – Click this so that others cannot see you. Click again to reshow the video. The presenter can do the same from their controls.
  • Share – Use this to share something on your device. Things like pictures, apps and documents should be open and minimised before you enter the call.
  • Participants – tap this to see a list of who is on the call and who is a host (presenter). If you are the host\presenter, you can invite someone else onto the call during a meeting.
  • Chat – here you can type a message to the whole group or a participant
  • Reactions – Symbols of clapping hands and a thumbs up
  • End – Tap to leave the meeting. The presenter can also remove participants.

When in a meeting you will see on screen the other attendees. If there are more than a couple it can be difficult to see who wants to talk next, so instead of just speaking across people either raise your hand, like you used to do at school, send a chat message to the host\presenter or use one of the reactions. Usually the presenter will tell you which option they prefer at the start of the meeting.

Some tips on presenting:

  • Send the invitation out a couple of days before the meeting. If you send the invite out too early, you risk attendees losing the invite
  • Use the Zoom test site to make sure everything is working Ok – https://zoom.us/test
  • Be on time starting the meeting – If you are on the free plan, you only get 40 minutes.
  • Start the meeting with the participants muted – This avoids lots of conversations starting up as soon as people are let in. It will save you time getting the call under control.
  • For the same reason and for security, use the waiting room option. That way you get to see who is waiting and can reject anyone you didn’t invite.
  • When everyone has been admitted, lock the room. This prevents unauthorised attendees. If someone is late, try texting or emailing them to see if they are still joining. Decide at what point you are going to lock the room anyway, irrespective of whether everyone is in or not.
  • Where possible take time to say hello to everyone at the start of the meeting – Obviously you can’t do this if there are too many people. 
  • Make sure your location is distraction free and there are no private papers on view. Consider using a virtual background, this way only you are visible. Not all devices are able to have a virtual background. This link gives more information – https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/210707503-Virtual-Background
  • Look at the camera, not yourself on screen
  • Speak clearly and in your usual tone – Make sure you haven’t muted yourself by accident
  • Keep an eye on the screen to ensure that you don’t miss anyone trying to attract your attention, or there is a chat message waiting
  • At the end of a meeting, the host is the last to leave the meeting.

 Screen sharing

A feature of Zoom is that other people can see what’s on your device’s desktop. Maybe you want to share a document, video, photo or PowerPoint presentation. To save time in the meeting and to prevent you looking unprofessional, it’s a good idea to have the items you want to present open and minimised.

If presenting a document, make sure that the font is good enough for sharing otherwise people may have to squint or might not be able to see it at all.  Try Arial Regular size 14

This link shows you how to present, depending upon your device – https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362153-Sharing-your-screen

Host Controls

Running a Zoom meeting can be quite daunting, especially if there are a large number of attendees. You may wish to appoint a Co-Host to help you (such as manage attendees, check chats and run presentations).

The guidance on what controls are available to a host are here – https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362603-Host-and-co-host-controls-in-a-meeting

Note that this guidance mentions the concept of breakout rooms, these are best used in large meetings or conferences. I believe this option is not available on the free plan.