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The Brilliance of iPhone 4’s FaceTime



Video conferencing has been around for a while, primarily on PCs and corporate settings, but with FaceTime on the iPhone 4, a lot of people are hopeful and optimistic the format will become a mainstream hit. I doubt they’ll be let down.

Personally, I’m not keen on video conferencing. If I was, I’d be using it already, but I admit I should get more excited about video calls. I live clear across the other side of the country from most of my family (beyond opposite coasts). I should try to get more face time (generic term, not trademark) with them. So even though FaceTime (not the generic term) does not get me fired up, I recognize the potential, and so do others.

Sachin Agarwal, CEO of blog-by-email system Posterous, claims “FaceTime will be successful because you don’t need an account”. Technically, you do need an account, but his main point is you don’t need yet another account. People are doing video calling on other phones using services like Fring and Skype, but the ability to call someone as you normally do and then switch it to a video call has been elusive. With its limitations (Wi-Fi only, limited to iPhone 4 calling until standards are established), FaceTime doesn’t quite have the whole package together, but it is a significant step forward.

Another party excited about FaceTime is Skype. In an exclusive with Pocket-Lint, a source within the company shares their excitement about getting the system to work with Skype. Though they almost certainly could not get Skype integrated into FaceTime, they could get the FaceTime functionality integrated into their Skype app and make it possible for FaceTime calls to connect with Skype users and vice versa. The system can be a win for everyone.

Until then, I expect FaceTime will be the big lure of the iPhone 4. Apple’s already hitting all the right emotional keys with their demo videos (which BTW are not the commercials directed by Sam Mendes), and the emotional draw will only increase once the commercials hit the air (which are directed by Sam Mendes). The brilliant part is, once I get an iPhone 4, people who love me will be highly tempted to get one too. Not just my distant family, but also my nearby wife who may want to see what I or the cats are up to. If she gets one, then her mom will want one to see what she’s doing, then her grandfather will want one, and so on and so forth in a grand domino effect. Now take that example and apply it to everyone gets an iPhone 4. I’m sure only a small percentage of people will actually convert to the iPhone for this, but that’s a small percentage of a large pool. The marketing angle on this is brilliant. Technologically, FaceTime is nothing new, but the implementation and marketing should take video calling to a new high.



  1. Stuart

    06/10/2010 at 10:27 am

    Video calling on mobiles has been around for years. It wasn’t a big sell for the network providers who offer them. I really don’t see why this is so revolutionary. Being able to make Skype calls with video is already available natively in the N900 and that doesn’t limit you to just people who have N900. It seems to me to be a perk like Blackberry messenger is to people who have blackberries. Talking on the phone puts the phone to your ear. Doing webcam chat has cam in front of you with a headset. How long will people actually hold their phone in front of them just to make a video call? If you really only use it at home or where there is a wifi connection, why not use a pc with webcam instead?

  2. Pradeep

    06/10/2010 at 10:31 am

    Video chatting is there on 2 yr old Nokia N900 and it is better as
    1. It will allow to to do Video Calling on Cellular network
    2. allow Video Calling between N900 & any other client like other person on PC / Mac / Linux / whatever
    3. It allows Google Video Call as well

    There is nothing apple is created / invented.
    slow adapting and makeing it a BIG feature

    • kaz911

      06/10/2010 at 12:22 pm

      Pradeep? N900 2 year old with video calling?

      Sorry get your facts right before posting.

      N900 – released late 2009! So no more than 8 months old.
      Still cant do 3G (mobile) video calls. Might never (Nokia changed focus to MeeGo from Maemo)
      Can do Skype video calls as of 2 weeks ago (Pr. 1.2)
      can do google video since? Jan-2010?

      I had phones 6 years ago that could do video over 3G – but it has never been a success. – First you need to wear a headset (if you a in public anyway) and you need to hold your phone in front of you. I think iPad 2.0 has better chance with facetime than iPhone 4.

  3. Xavier Lanier

    06/10/2010 at 11:11 am

    I agree with SumoCat on this one. It’s not always about the best/fanciest technology, it’s often about the simplest way of getting something done. Several attempts to get my in-laws to use Skype video have been fruitless. They’ve lost a web came my brother-in-law bought them, claimed they didn’t have a Skype account (even though we set it up for them), don’t have it installed on the notebook we gave them, etc, etc. Point is, lots of roadblocks in getting bi-coastal face time between my wife and her parents. At a minimum,we’d need to thoroughly train them on Skype (yes, I know most GBM readers don’t need to be trained on Skype, but some average consumers do) and call them to let them know we wanted to chat.
    If they get an iPhone 4, that barrier will be removed. In fact, as I write this I think I just figured out what my wife and I are getting our dads for father’s day…

    • ChrisRS

      06/10/2010 at 4:01 pm

      My first reation was to make a joke about Apple inventing Video Phone, but if they do make it simple and fool proof that will be a major acomplishment.

      It will raise the bar for other phone makers/designers/suppliers. It is not enough to provide hardware and softeware if is not easy enough to be used by the general public.

      For may people, social video chat is a “nice to have” feature not a “need to have” feature; it does not warrent much effort. They need it to be simple.

  4. Xavier Lanier

    06/10/2010 at 11:12 am

    btw Sumocat, why does your cat look so serious? Does he not appreciate iDevices the way some cats do?

    • Sumocat

      06/10/2010 at 11:20 am

      No, it’s because I’ve given him the kill signal. He takes his work very seriously. :)

  5. Raphael

    06/10/2010 at 12:12 pm

    All this excuses about “to difficult” “unusable”. What about who has an iPhone 4 in my family? My grandma? Sure not!
    My SonyEricsson P1i has two cameras and the ability for video calls. And this innovation came out in 2007 and no body used it really. I don’t want be seen during my calls. And as long as you have to use a wifi connection you can really do it with Skype or iChat.

  6. tabletenvy

    06/10/2010 at 12:18 pm

    Would Face Time use up much data per call? Just wondering if this would eat up your data cap pretty quickly.

    • gEEk

      06/10/2010 at 12:46 pm

      FaceTime only works over WiFi so it wouldn’t consume any of your 3G data quota.

    • Sumocat

      06/10/2010 at 1:29 pm

      I think that’s exactly the issue Apple is trying to hammer out with their wireless partners. In a pure IP system, like Skype, it would all be data, but I suspect Apple is fighting for it to be counted as voice minutes to keep it in line with the simplicity of connecting by phone. That way, they won’t be counted against data usage, and they’ll show up on a phone bill as calls, eliminating confusion over when calls were made and for how long when using FaceTime.

  7. RobertM

    06/10/2010 at 2:11 pm

    I can’t remember exactly, but back when 3G first started coming out in Europe( 2004 was it?) the main hype of 3G was not mobile broadband but video calling, the meaning 3G back then was sometimes mistakenly associated with video, leading people at that time think that 4g would be holograms. Anyway, many people got 3g phones for bragging rights and the pretext that u can talk to your family. They tried it out the first week and then due to the bad video quality and much higher prices then normal calls it was all but left as a feature to have in there just in case some disaster where showing your friends where you are by video could save your life. The end.

    Truth is, imho, before you talk about simplicity as the main problem( most people will adapt if its simply better no matter how daunting it is), it’s more about the price/quality of the video call over a voice call.

    Wi-fi video calls I’m assuming should be free, making it a no brainer for most people that have wi-fi access at the places they need to go every day. Hell, that’s the reason skype is so good, IT’S FREE. Integrating facetime with skype should be a natural decision even for Apple, unless for some reason they believe they can overtake skype entirely, meaning they will likely wait a few months before the make a decision based on costumer use of facetime.

  8. Mike

    06/10/2010 at 11:17 pm

    I think you are right that it will help drive mainstream acceptance/expectation.
    I doubt it will be too long before the carriers have some nickle & diming price-gouging data package to let you do it through them.

    By next year the apple fan boys will be openly claiming apple invented it.
    By the year after that Jobs will probably be trying or threatening to sue whomever owns the dick tracey cartoon rights.

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