Sprint's HTC Evo 4G and AT&T's Apple iPhone 4 both feature front-facing cameras that work with video calling software. Video chatting on the go is a hot new thing here in the states, but it's been a part of cell phone culture in other parts of the world for awhile now.
When I first got an Evo 4G to test out, I did a video chat using Fring's app with Mobile Burn's Todd Haselton, who was also reviewing the device. We chatted over a 3G connection on Sprint's cellular network. I was in my office in California, Todd was at home in New York City. It was fun, the quality was better than expected but not pristine, and that was that.
A month or so later, when I first got an iPhone 4, I did a video chat using Apple's FaceTime software with IntoMobile's Will Park. FaceTime only works over WiFi, but both will and I happened to be at WiFi-equipped bars that Friday during happy hour, so when I called him with my pint glass raised in the air from Oakland he answered in kind from Palo Alto, CA. Geeks drinking beer on a Friday, go figure (!). That call was also fun, and featured slightly more pristine video quality, but we couldn't hear one another due to the background noise.
That second call made me wonder if "FaceTiming from bars" was set to be the new form of stupid public behavior - along the lines of clueless adults holding loud, public conversations on crowded trains and in movie theaters - that I'd soon grow to scoff at. While I had fun FaceTiming with Will while waiting for my friend to meet me, as soon as my real-world buddy showed up I felt really obnoxious for toasting virtual Will via video call from a real-world bar he wasn't at. I suddenly envisioned a world in which drunkards stopped screaming loudly at one another in public and instead took to screaming even more loudly at their video-chatting counterparts instead. And that made me sad.
But the next Monday when WIll and I debriefed about our video chat, he asked a good question about the "new" tech: "Sure it's fun now in a gimimcky way, but in a month will anybody still be using it?"
And so a month later (give or take), here's what I can tell you about video calling on mobile and on the desktop ... and what a few folks I know who live, breathe and work with mobile tech every day have to say on the topic:
Noah Kravitz - Editor in Chief, PhoneDog Media (@phonedog_noah)
"I use FaceTime here and there with Adriana and a few other iPhone 4-toting friends, but usually only for the "how's it work?" experience. I do, however, use Skype to video chat with my family on the East Coast and to conduct TV interviews. Video chatting works better on the desktop, in part because the screen is larger and in part because people tend to be stationary and within WiFi coverage when they're at their computers. Video calls on the go aren't particularly easy or fun to me, and not that many people in the US yet have a mobile phone that can handle it. Skype, on the other hand, is easy, free, and runs on the "plain old computers" that most people already own and use every day.
I'll be very curious to see what happens to mobile video calling in the states if and when: 1. Apple releases a FaceTime-compatible iPod Touch this Fall, 2. More Android phones with front-facing cameras hit the market, and 3. Some clever developer releases a FaceTime-to-Desktop client that works really well, enabling iPhone 4 users to video chat with the rest of the world. Even then, I'm still thinking that teens might take to FaceTiming while the rest of us Skype, but only once in awhile."
Adriana Lee - Managing Editor, Todays iPhone (@phonedogadriana)
"I don't use FaceTime very often, but i could easily see my usage going up, and i think it will. My sister lives in Europe, my brother and nephews are in Jersey, and my folks are in Pennsylvania, sovideo chatting via Skype has already taken off in my homelife. We don't all have iPhone 4s, so I'm watching third parties like Fring very closely to see what cross-platform solutions might develop. i'm somewhat annoyed that Skype is no longer available via Fring, and that the Skype update didn't address mobile video calling. Thatwould solve a lot of problems for me."
Aaron Baker - Managing Editor, PhoneDog.com (@phonedog_aaron)
"I've used video chatting on an occasional basis, but I have no plans to increase my use in the short-term unless my friends and family migrate to devices that are capable of said technology. Video calling is an amazing tool, and even in the short time I've used it, I've found myself enjoying the face-to-face communication. That being said, the technology is available on a select number of smartphones in the United States, so I have a feeling it'll be a while before it's a truly "mainstream" feature."
"Video chatting on the mobile phone has been around for a long time, but it hasn't taken off in all these years for good reason. Nokia once said that the reason video calls have failed to catch on was because the up-facing angle makes people look ugly - and it does - but the real problem is that video chatting is just not convenient enough to use in real life. I used FaceTime on my iPhone 4 a few times during iPhone 4 launch weekend, and haven't touched it since - being limited to WiFi is kind of a deal killer. Will I use it in a couple months? Possibly, but only if I can jailbreak the iPhour to use FaceTime over 3G. Most people will probably try out video calling a few times, deem it a "gimmick" then mostly continue about their lives without video calls.
"I know it seems silly to point this out, but I've been using video calling to interact with my seven-week old son and my wife when I've been away from home. The biggest problem I find is that other people don't use it. It's an anathema to them, still, despite much of the Western World having the facility for years. I don't think this will change quickly. Apple's FaceTime advertising is certainly helping educate consumers on 'best practice' and with their seamless implementation, I would hope that it video calling will be come more widespread. But I think it'll take years, not months, before I'm doing more than one video call a week.
I do about 5x more video calling on my desktop/laptop via Skype than I do on my mobile.
So where I might do one video call a week on my mobile, I do at least five or more video calls from the desktop."
"Video chatting is on the upswing, especially in the mobile space where high megapixel, front-facing cameras are becoming the new smartphone standard. Other phone manufacturers and app developers will follow suit one way or another. Apple’s FaceTime is only one example of what’s available now, but because it’s preloaded on the iPhone 4 and not a third-party app, Apple has effectively drawn attention to the video issue on its cultish, status symbol of a device in a way that third-party apps have not been able to do.
With my immediate family living internationally, I do frequently video chat from the desktop. But you know what, if there were better, more reliable VoIP chat apps with clear, two-way video, I’d make a heck of a lot more overseas calls."
"I dont use video chat now and likely won't in two months, either. I think it could be compelling with a client such as Skype, if it connects video calling from computers and mobile alike. Otherwise i think voice calls and text messages are more efficient."
"I think the barrier that's stopped it from taking off is easy phone-to-PC bridging, personally. Phone-to-phone isn't always practical, and with FaceTime, of course, compatibility is about as limited as it can be."
What about you? Do you use video chatting on your phone? Would you seek out and pay more for a phone with a front-facing camera and video calling software? What about from the desktop? Do you Skype? Do you like it, do you want it, do you even care? Let us know in the comments!