Video calling is a very intriguing and old concept. But somehow it does not seem to catch up! What went wrong?
Key barriers until now:
Price: As happened to mobile internet in the past, it did not pick up until the prices went down. Today mobile operators ask you to pay an astronomic price premium for every video call minute (independent of the costs linked to the purchase of capable device)
Quality: The mobile video experience is in most cases a disaster. It is often linked to a poor camera quality, a tiny display, slow connection or an inefficient video format
Standards: Every video call solution is using its own standard. Nothing is compatible to each other. Nokia & Co tried to create something through 3GPP collaboration, but it is only a mobile phone specific approach – all internet users are excluded! Try to make a video call from a Mac to PC! Yes, there is Skype – but common, it is a closed limited format (HD only for few sponsored camera types) and you depend on the willingness of a single company to drive development further.
Usage: People are not used to see each other while talking remotely. It is not something we ever had, or ever missed. It is a sci-fi goody we saw once in a movie. For certain situations a video transmission is even not wanted. Somebody has to come and explain us first at which occasions it would make sense and shake up the industry …
… and this somebody seems to be Apple (again) with its new iPhone 4
These guys are serious when they focus on a topic. And they are specialists in creating new markets. So let’s look in detail how do they address every of the mentioned issues.
Apple’s answer: FaceTime
Price: Video call functionality is already integrated into the new iPhone 4. No addition usage costs per minute occur (in case of a data flat tariff)
Quality: Thanks to the modern H.264 video format, a speedy hardware and a good camera, you can expect an acceptable fluent video and an excellent sound quality (as first testers note).
Standards: Apple announced “FaceTime” to be an open standard which is based on H.264, AAC, SIP, STUN, TURN, ICE, RTP, and SRTP. Developers of mobile phones, computer software will have the possibility to connect with FaceTime users.
Usage: Apple has a strong track record for telling people what they should do. Apple is a trend-setter for lifestyle goods. Video calls are clearly market push where consumers realize that they need it once they have tried it.
Wait a second – all this technology already exists for years. There are at least 30 Nokia mobiles with a front-facing camera. Where exactly is the revolution?
There is no revolution – it is rather a video call “reloaded”. Apple’s fundamental success is linked to its capability to create a unique bundle of hardware and software, which results in a perfect user experience. And this is what counts. You add a little marketing hype, attach it to a highly popular device – and the let some time pass.
You can be sure that FaceTime is just the start. If it really takes off, the following steps are just a matter of months:
iChat (Mac OSX) integration so that millions of Mac users can video talk with mobile iPhone users (given the HD webcam which is integrated into all modern Apple laptops)
Skype (Windows, Linux, etc.) interoperability… which would open access to >500 million users worldwide (accounting today for over 10% of international call volumes)
Android / Windows Mobile 7 interoperability – thanks to the open standard, any kind of applications on devices with front-face camera could communicate with each other
Enterprise usage – new features such as conferences, integration with calendars, invitations, encryption and many other
3G usage – today FaceTime is limited only to WiFi mainly due to bandwidth reasons, but with increasing performance of mobile networks – this limitation is expected to be dropped soon and allow a total mobility when using video calls
So should we be excited? Oh yes! 🙂 Apple’s move is an impulse for the whole telecommunication industry, which will create more innovations from Google, Microsoft, HTC, Nokia, Samsung, Skype and many more… I am curious to make my first video call while walking somewhere in the mountains and video calling with somebody thousands miles away…