The irony about the story I'm about to tell you is that Sprint is all excited about their new Evo 4G's video chat capabilities, which are powered by an app called Qik ... but Qik's 2-way video service isn't yet available (me and my geeky friends sure couldn't find it, anyway) so the story only happened because we used Fring, a Qik rival, to make it happen. Technology's funny like that, especially "open" technology. Anyway ...
I just completed a video call over a cellular network. On a mobile phone. In American. Welcome to the future, kids. It's a future where minutes are cheap, data rules, and videoconferencing on the go is real. It might be a small windowed, motion laggy reality that's long been available in other parts of the world. And it may well be a reality that you won't much care about. But it's real all the same.
"Rod" (actually Todd from MobileBurn) and I video chatted for about four minutes just now, both of us using Fring on Evo 4G phones. He was at his home in New York City, I was at a cafe in Oakland, CA. We both had headphones in but used our Evo's built-in microphones. We were both connected to Sprint's 3G network (ain't no 4G here or in NYC just yet).
After a shaky start involving a few dropped calls and ten seconds or so of mutated audio once we made a connection, the experience was surprisingly good. The photo above is marred by the reflection of the green-sleeved cameraphone I used to document the video call, but it gives a pretty good idea of what video chatting via Fring was like: My self-preview window was smaller but clearer than Rod's livestream window, and the fact that neither of us had prepared optimal lighting conditions meant that he was somewhat backlit and hard to see.
Beyond that, the call quality itself was acceptable but not amazing: Our voices were clear and seemed to be transmitting in real time. Our images were laggy, a little grainy and pixelated, and definitely out of sync with the audio. The experience was good enough to be a fun novelty worth telling people about, but not something I'm ready to go spend extra time and money on just yet.
In other words, it's at least as good as one-way livestreaming from a phone but nowhere near Skype or iChat AV on a computer.
But get ready for all kinds of people telling you all kinds of amazing things about mobile video chat in the coming months. Between Sprint's massive EVO marketing campaign having just launched and rumors about Apple prepping a likely more massive onslaught to show off video chatting on the next iPhone starting Monday, "cell phone" and "video chat" are bound to become synonymous in the minds of fanboys and marketers alike.
Do you care, though? Are you dying to do some live two-way video calling from your cellie? Do you already have an Evo whose front-facing camera has quickly become your BFF? Or are you happy to text and leave stuttery, laggy bleeding edge video chatting to your bandwagon-hopping buddies?