Science fiction for today

kubrick_archive_2001_dress-rehearsals_spaceship_crew-2When I was growing up, the idea of ‘video calls’ was really far out and radical. On my travels round Australia and Asia in my twenties, I had to schedule a rather expensive phone call with my folks about once a week, or wait for those wonderful, tissue-thin airmail letters to arrive at Post Restante, half way across town.

Today, I have regular Skype calls with friends around the globe and we can see each other to chat for as long as we like, for free. With Christmas coming up, I thought it would be fun to introduce you to some of the many (free) video calling services out there so that you can easily share the festive season with far-flung friends and relatives (or those just round the corner). It’s sci-fi for today.

There are lots of great packages you can use, and most have mobile versions too, so you can video call from your smartphone or tablet, as well as your computer. Here are three that we like:

26456e06d545876f253b1538938624241. FaceTime: if you both have iPhones or iPads, then Apple’s FaceTime is a great thing to use. It’s simple to use because all Apple products come ready equipped with the app, and it connects with your contacts, so instead of phoning someone, you can just FaceTime them instead. If you live in a world of friends and family who mostly own iDevices, this is perfect for you.

facebook-messenger2. Facebook Messenger: yes, you may not realise it, even if you’re a regular Facebook user. But download the Facebook ‘Messenger’ app and not only can you send messages directly to your Facebook friends but you can talk for free and make video calls too! I just tested it out with my 16 year old son – it worked really well, but he was less than thrilled to see my face suddenly appear on his phone. This works just as well if one of you is using Android and the other iOS (iPhone). Not so easy to do on a computer.

skype_logo-svg3. Skype: this is the daddy of video calling services. Skype may be owned by Microsoft now, but it still has a strong identity of its own. On your computer, just open your internet browser (Safari, Chrome, Edge etc) and search for Skype.com. The webpage will open and you can set up an account for free, then download the desktop application that’s right for your computer (choose Mac or Windows). You can use Skype on a phone or tablet too, so you can use it anywhere you have wifi. Once you’ve downloaded the programme, you can log in and search for friends and family. You can make voice and video calls, send text messages or even use it to send panasonic-image-skype_video_chat2large files like photos. If you’re feeling especially clever you can make group calls too.

So there you have it. You don’t need to be Captain Kirk or Dr Floyd to use a videophone – the technology is simple, free and right there at your fingertips.

Mistaken identity

Our household now has more Apple devices than people and when that happens it’s easy to get your iLife in a tangle. Recently my iPad was inviting me to my husband’s meetings and over Christmas my son’s iPhone photos automatically uploaded onto the family computer. Granny was a bit upset.

The secret to controlling what you share is your Apple ID.

Unlike your computer, your iPhone or iPad can only have one owner and it knows who you are by an email address that you have registered with Apple, called your Apple ID.

iCloud

When your device is online it can be set to constantly send your data (your emails for this address and your diary dates, contacts, photos, videos and browser bookmarks) to Apple, who store it on their server and forward it on to any other device registered with the same Apple ID. Apple call this your iCloud account.

Where it goes wrong is when someone is using a device registered to a different person’s Apple ID. The new user may have added their own email account, but the device will still upload photos and sync diaries with the registered Apple ID.

So, unless you want to share every detail of your life, everyone should have their own Apple ID.

iTunes store

At the risk of complicating things, it’s worth pointing out that the account you have with Apple for buying music, movies and apps – your iTunes Store account – is a different thing altogether. Often you will have registered the same email address (as your Apple ID), but the two are quite independent. So if you want to you can have a single iTunes account for all the family, allowing you to educate younger generations about real music and proper movies, without receiving Facetime requests from their friends.