Microsoft may be secretly building support for front-facing cameras with the next iteration of Windows Phone 7 hardware that will be released with the Mango update pre-loaded, and there’s been more evidence to support Microsoft’s plans to build in video chat to its mobile platform. In the first beta of the Mango developer tools, there were references to a ‘self portrait camera,’ and now WP Central noticed in the second beta that there’s a new camera icon within the camera app that would allow a user to switch between front- and rear-facing cameras.
Support for video chat would not be out of the ordinary as Microsoft’s rivals are building out ways to make it easier for consumers and enterprise users to connect with each other with voice, video, and data. Apple had launched its own FaceTime ecosystem for video chat, along with iMessage to tackle text-based IM messages that would compete against Research in Motion’s BlackBerry Messenger and SMS text messages. Google has announced that Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread would integrate with Google Chat with video, allowing its huge audience of users to connect to each other on Android. And with Microsoft’s recent acquisition of mobile video and chat service Skype, the potential would be there to integrate Skype services into Windows Phone 7.
So far, outside of Apple’s FaceTime ecosystem–as Android 2.3.4 is not available widely on many devices yet–video chat has been a cumbersome procedure with quick fixes through third-party clients and ecosystems, like Qik, Tango, and others. With these systems, users have to download the app and ensure that all parties are on the same service, have log-ins created, and have capable and supported devices. If Microsoft is able to integrate Skype into its platform, it would make Windows Phone 7 more competitive as Skype already has a large audience, a big number of business users, and could potential give Windows Phone 7 users an option against high international call charges levied by carriers.
Unfortunately, though, with video calling support being built into Mango, existing owners won’t be able to take advantage of the feature as current handsets lack the required front-facing camera hardware. The feature will most likely require new, second-generation hardware for support.