Desperately seeking your input

One of the things I’ve always hated about Skype is how fiddly the controls are, including the fact that it can’t just use the currently selected system input and output settings. Well, Skype and Microsoft aren’t the only ones who’ve chosen (or chosen to continue using) a confusing paradigm for their video chat software. Apple does it too.

FaceTime is a great piece of software in many ways. It’s easy to use, it’s included on every Mac and iOS device, and the video and audio quality and the UI are quite good. On the Mac, however, it gets a bit weird in terms of selecting your audio input and output.

By default, my Mac is set up to use my Rode Podcaster1 as the input mic, and the default built-in speakers as the output. I have it set this way because I can mute the mic and make sure it’s not on and I don’t have to wonder what my mic is doing at any give time. When using FaceTime, though, I want to set the default internal mic as the input source so that I don’t have to pull the mic down in front of my face, and it’s a bit overkill for a video conversation with family anyway.

Mac Audio Settings

You might think if you set the Mac’s current input to the internal microphone, FaceTime would follow, but you’d be wrong. In fact, finding exactly where to set which mic FaceTime does use is a bit weird. It’s not in FaceTime preferences, because that would make too much sense. You have to click on the Video menu in the FaceTime menubar and make your selections there. Considering that FaceTime has a preferences menu option and that FaceTime does audio as well as video calls, it’s a bit of a stupid UI choice, to be honest.

FT Audio Settings

Apple is known for having easy to use software and designing intuitive user interfaces, but the fact is they get it wrong a lot of the time. Just fire up iTunes on the Mac, Music app on iOS, iMovie on either platform, the original iPhoto for iOS, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Apple seems to have this bi-polar ability to get inside our heads and see what we need so perfectly that it’s downright creepy, or fail miserably at even coming close to understanding how human beings think and function. Designing great software is hard, but for a company that has a reputation for products that are better than the rest at being simple to understand and use, Apple gets it wrong more often than a lot of people think.

  1. Yes, yes… I know it’s not the greatest mic in the universe. It does a decent job, and I can’t afford another mic.