Do you have about five group texts simultaneously blowing up your phone full of messages mostly to the effect of: "Hey...how's everyone doing...you know, considering we're in the midst of a global pandemic?"
If the answer to this is yes, and if the members of your group chats are iPhone users, there's a quick tool right inside your chat that lets you get all members connected by video at the same time: Group FaceTime. Here's how to use it to stay connected with your friends and family while practising social distancing.
If you are calling on an iPhone or iPad
You need iOS 12.1.4 on the iPhone 6s or later (or iPod Touch 7th generation) in order to enable Group FaceTime. Earlier models can participate in Group FaceTime with audio only.
Or if you're using an iPad, you'll need iPadOS on the iPad Pro or later, iPad Air 2 or later, iPad mini 4 or later, or iPad (5th generation) or later.
If you're using an iPhone X or later or an iPad Pro 11-inch or iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation), you can also use Memoji and Animoji on Group FaceTime. Click the "Effects" button on the bottom option panel of your FaceTime chat. From here, you can select from a row of camera effects including filters, Memoji/Animoji, free-drawing, stickers, and text. Those using an older iPhone model can still use these effects (minus Animoji/Memoji).
There are two ways to start a Group FaceTime call. To create a call within an already-existing group chat, go to the top of the chat and click on the participant icons. From here, you should see an option to start a FaceTime call. Once you click, everyone in the group chat will receive a request to FaceTime. If someone in your group chat initiates the Group FaceTime, you can join it by going into the chat room and clicking "Join."
You can also initiate a Group FaceTime directly through the FaceTime app. Click the plus sign in the top right corner and add contacts to New FaceTime. This way, you can create FaceTime groups that don't already have an existing chat thread.
If you are using a Mac
If you're using macOS Mojave 10.14.3 (build 18D109) or later, you can use Group FaceTime on your Mac. Open the FaceTime app and find your desired contacts in the search bar. From here, click the Video icon to initiate a call with the group. You can also start a call via the Messages app on your Mac by going to a specific group chat, clicking on Details, and choosing the Video icon. To join a call, either accept via Notifications, click Join when you're in the group chat, or click to join the active Group FaceTime within your FaceTime app.
How many people can you add?
FaceTime versus Zoom
Zoom can support video calls with hundreds of people, so it's probably better than Group FaceTime when it comes to your remote work needs. Zoom also has breakout rooms ideal for remote classroom learning, as well as a whiteboard feature and screen-sharing. It has virtual backgrounds, reactions, and a "touch up my appearance" filter, too, but it lacks the many playful effects of Group FaceTime. Since Group FaceTime can be so easily accessed straight from Messages, it's a good (and free) option that's probably best for personal rather than professional use.