It’s that special time of year and this holiday season is like no other. We’ve received hopeful news that the highly anticipated Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) is being shipped across the US and thousands of shots are currently being administered. A second COVID-19 vaccine created by Moderna received emergency use authorization, providing a second line of defense and millions of additional doses. Frontline health care workers will be able to receive the vaccine in the coming weeks, but the majority of the general population will have to wait a little longer. While we all wish we could spend time with our family and friends, we are far from out of the woods and we must remain vigilant in order to minimize the spread of the virus and the impact on our coworkers and health care system.
How can we celebrate the holidays with loved ones when we must continue to physically distance ourselves? Fortunately, we live in an era of advanced technology that allows us to stay safe while staying connected. There are hundreds of applications or “apps” available for your smart phone, tablet or computer and best of all, most are free. I routinely participate in video conference calls for work and now more consistently with family and friends from coast to coast. I’ve had to experiment with diverse platforms since a variety of devices and operating systems are utilized by my inner circle. I am now more accustomed to navigating chat rooms, turning on my video camera, and remembering to unmute myself so others can hear me. If you haven’t had time to explore these video chat apps, here’s a summary of some of the popular ones that you may want to investigate over the coming weeks.
One of the earliest developed video conferencing apps released in 2003, Skype has been used to communicate with anyone around the world for free. Up to 100 people can join one call. The app works with any device: desktop computers, laptops, tablets and even some gaming consoles. It includes instant messaging; text messaging; video, audio and image sharing; screen sharing; and call recording. Skype is iOS and Android compatible.
Zoom seems like new technology but it’s actually been around since 2011. The app gained wide popularity during the pandemic lockdown. Zoom allows you to connect with up to 100 people for 40 minutes for free. Subscription plans are available for larger meetings, longer time limits and additional functionality. A meeting must be scheduled, and you must have an invitation link to join. You can share your video, share your screen, mute participants and create breakout chat rooms. It is easy to use and can be installed on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Zoom is iOS and Android compatible.
This app allows for video calling between Apple products however, it is not compatible with Android devices. Up to 32 people can join one video call. FaceTime works on iOS platforms including mobile devices running iOS 4 and later (iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, iPad touch) and Mac computers that run Mac OS X 10.6.6 and later.
This app is similar to FaceTime but for Android users. The advantage here is that it is also compatible with iOS devices. Free to use, you can chat with up to 32 people. You can also send video messages with effects and filters.
WhatsApp can be used internationally using a WiFi connection and is available on both iPhone and Android smart devices. Live video calls are limited to 8 people, but group chats can accommodate up to 256 people at once where you can share messages, photos and videos. You can also share documents, PDF files, spreadsheets, slideshows and more (up to 100 MB). WhatsApp is iOS and Android compatible.
Geared towards teens, this free chatroom application does not require an invitation or scheduling ahead of time. You can act as the “host”, set up a “house” where friends can join, or you can attend a house party that a friend is hosting. You can chat with up to 8 people and you can play games. Houseparty is iOS and Android compatible.
A Google account is needed but does not require an app download. Anyone with a Google account can create a video meeting, invite up to 100 people to chat free for up to an hour. Groups within an organization can use Meet to create video meetings that help coworkers connect one-on-one, collaborate as a team, and more. Many schools and colleges are using Meet to host secure virtual classes, parent-teacher conferences, tutoring and school socials. Google Meet is compatible with iOS, Android and the World Wide Web.
Marco Polo is a video app that does not require you to be live. You can send a video message to family and friends that can be viewed at any time. Very useful when you have friends and family living in different time zones and you cannot coordinate a time to talk live. It is free without time limits and includes filters and voice effects. Marco Polo is iOS and Android compatible.
Make it Fun!
|Comparing Popular Video Chat Applications
||# Allowed Users
|Up to 100
||iOS, Android, computer, tablet, smart phone, Xbox One console, smart watches
||Includes instant messaging; users can send text, video, audio and images, screen sharing, call recording.
|Up to 100
40 minutes maximum for free version.
Subscription service available
|iOS, Android, computer, tablet, smart phone, smart watches
||Easy to use and install, breakout chat rooms, screen sharing, call recording.
|Up to 32 people
||iOS mobile devices running iOS 4 and later (iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, iPad touch) and Mac computers that run Mac OS X 10.6.6 and later
||Easy to use but incompatible with Android devices.
Use over WiFi or over cellular on supported devices.
|Up to 32 people
||Android 4.1 or later; iOS 9.0 or later; smart phone, tablet, computer, and smart displays such as Google Next Hub Max.
||Family mode includes Doodle function, filter effects, notes, emojis, video and voice messages; requires sign-in with Google account.
|Live video calls are limited to 8 people
|Android, iOS, Windows smart phones, web version for Mac or Windows PC
||Internet connection is required to send messages.; free international voice calls; share PDFs, documents, spreadsheets, slideshows and more.
|Up to 8 people can chat per “room”, unlimited number of chat rooms per user
||Android, iOS, Mac, PC, Google Chrome extension
||Ability to play games such as Heads Up!, Trivia, Quick Draw and Chips and Guac.
|Up to 100 people can meet for up to 60 minutes per meeting for free
||Android, iOS, web
||Free; businesses can connect co-workers and schools can host virtual classes, parent-teacher conferences, tutoring and school socials.
|Up to 200 people
||Free and unlimited, filters and voice effects included.
We’ve been forced to celebrate milestones in unconventional ways. Why not spice up your next family video call with a dance party, singing songs or playing a game? There are a variety of games available and these are relatively easy to use by simply downloading the app. Familiar games include Pictionary, Scattergories, Heads Up, charades, scavenger hunt, trivia, and more.
Today, we multi-tasked and attended a Zoom call with my husband’s extended family where we all competed in a gingerbread decorating house competition. We simultaneously logged on to a virtual piano recital for my son which was pre-recorded and streamed on Google Meet. By many measures, I feel a deeper connection to family and friends as we are all making tremendous efforts to stay in touch. Let’s continue to celebrate together, safely.
FaceTime (2020). Use FaceTime with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Retrieved from https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204380
Google Duo (2020). Be Together in the Moment with Google Duo. Retrieved from https://duo.google.com/about/
Houseparty (2020). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://houseparty.com/faq/
Marco Polo (2020). Marco Polo Homepage. Retrieved from https://www.marcopolo.me/
Skype (2020). Get the Most Out of Skype. Retrieved from https://www.skype.com/en/features/
WhatsApp (2020). Features. Retrieved from https://www.whatsapp.com/features/
Zoom (2020). Solutions. Retrieved from https://zoom.us/
More Reading and Resources
Creating Dynamic Learning with Zoom
“Would You Like to Skype With Your Daughter?”: A Qualitative Feasibility Study of Video Telecommunication in a Psychogeriatric Hospital