Senior Lifestyles

Senior Tech: Far away and face-to-face, apps enable connection

When talking to loved ones who may live hundreds or thousands of miles away, an audio-only call is often not enough. Several modern apps enable users to make video calls via a computer or mobile device, including FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp.

All three services allow users to make video calls to other users of the same service at no cost over Wi-Fi, though network charges may apply if using cellular data.


Available on Apple devices only, the FaceTime app lets users make video and audio-only calls from one device to another via computer, tablet or phone. The app comes preinstalled on Apple devices and has access to all of the contacts stored on the device, so users do not have to enter contacts individually.

To access the app, users must first sign in with their iTunes account – the same email and password used to download new apps on the device. Then, after typing in the name, email or phone number of the person they wish to call, users may make a video call by pressing the video camera icon or an audio-only call by pressing the telephone icon.

After users hang up, FaceTime stores the contact in a list of previous video and audio calls on its front screen, making redials convenient.

FaceTime also allows users to set which number/email address they may be reached at and which number/email address they wish to start calls from via the settings app on mobile devices or FaceTime “Preferences” on a computer.


Unlike FaceTime, Skype is available on non-Apple devices as well, but it only comes preinstalled on Windows 10 devices. The free version of Skype enables users to make audio and video calls to other Skype users. Users may install Skype via the App Store on the iPhone or the Google Play Store on Android devices. For other devices, such as Mac, Windows or Linux computers, users must visit to download the program.

To launch the app, users must create an account or sign in with an existing Windows or Skype account. The app walks users through creating an account and will request information such as a username and password; users are advised to provide an email address for password recovery purposes.

After creating an account, users may add people as contacts via their full names, Skype names or phone numbers. As with FaceTime, users click the video-camera icon to make video calls to a contact and the telephone icon to make audio-only calls. Skype saves contact names for convenient redials.

The free version of Skype only allows users to make calls to other Skype users, but Skype also has a paid service that permits users to make audio-only domestic and international calls to non-Skype users. Plans cost from $6.99 to $13.99, depending on whether users wish to make domestic or international calls.


WhatsApp works on Apple, Android and Windows devices like Skype, but it does not come preinstalled on any; the app allows users to make audio and video calls to other WhatsApp users.

To download WhatsApp, which only allows calls on mobile devices, users may visit the App Store on Apple devices, the Google Play Store on Android devices or the equivalent on Windows and Nokia devices. Users must first provide their mobile numbers to use the app. For access to contacts, users may either allow the app to access the existing contacts on their devices as FaceTime does automatically or add contacts individually.

To make a video call to another WhatsApp user, tap the video-camera icon next to a contact; to make an audio-only call, tap the telephone icon.

A tech tutor is available at no charge for Senior Program members who need help with their devices 1 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays at the Los Altos Senior Program’s Hillview Community Center location, 97 Hillview Ave. A tech tutor is also available 10 a.m. most Mondays at the Grant Park facility, 1575 Holt Ave. Cost is $1 for members; $3 for nonmembers. To reserve a spot and for more information, call 947-2797.

Ramya Krishna is a former Town Crier editorial intern.

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