As indications point to iOS 12.1 being released this week, possibly tomorrow at the Apple Event, one of the key features of the release will not fully come to older iPhones and iPads. Group FaceTime, the ability to have a group video or audio call with up to 32 people, is one of the most anticipated features of the release but it will come as an audio-only feature to some older devices.
Specifically, according to the iOS 12.1 Users Guide, the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6s will get Group FaceTime as audio only. That means that users of these models will be able to join a call, but not send their own video. They will be audio only for the call.
Likewise, in the latest notes on the iOS 12.1 beta, it looks like the iPad Air, iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 3 will also be audio only devices for Group FaceTime. Given the age of these devices, the limiting of this feature isn’t a big surprise. Driving video of any type on an iPhone is a processor intensive activity and the architectures of these older devices, running the A8 SoC or earlier, simply can’t handle it.
On the bright side, it does look like the latest iPhone SE, which is powered by the A9 SoC, will support video Group FaceTime calls.