Among the many stunning features of Apple’s iPhone 4—and there are many—is FaceTime. Think of it as iPhone to iPhone iChat or Skype with video.
The new iPhone sports a front facing camera so video calling is around the corner. With a few caveats. For now, it’ll be iPhone 4 to iPhone 4. Only WiFi, not 3G. And iPhone video calling features a new technology Apple calls FaceTime. Will Mac users ever get FaceTime?
Face To Face Video—Past & Future
Face to face, Mac to Mac, PC to PC, and Mac to PC video calls have been around for years. Most Macs come with a built-in iSight camera and the included iChat app makes calling easy. Mostly.
Video chat on a Mac or PC is not exactly like a phone call. Yet.
iChat is, well, text chat, with audio and video features bolted on. If you have enough bandwidth on your internet connection, and a speedy Mac, iChat works well when connecting to other iChat users (also to AIM).
Even more popular on a world wide basis is the ubiquitous Skype, which creates a wider standard for chat, audio, and video calls.
With all those standards in place for many years, why is Apple pushing FaceTime as a new and open standard? Because there isn’t one. At least, not one with any world wide traction or usage.
The problem, too, is that video calls—Skype or iChat or whatever—go to Macs and PCs. To answer, you have to be in front of your computer. A commonly used video chat standard on all mobile devices would be a boon to mankind, and Apple is pushing it forward with FaceTime.
In a few years there will be tens of millions of iPhone users with FaceTime—video talking capability, and if the same standard hits Android and other smart phones, FaceTime will be the one to use.
What About Mac Users?
That brings up obvious questions: “Will FaceTime be an app that shows up on Macs? Or, will iChat incorporate the FaceTime standard? If so, how? And when?”
Or, to play the contrarian role, “Who cares?”
There are already about 100-million iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad users in the world, vs. barely 30-million or so Mac users. I want to think that Apple will incorporate such a wide open and far reaching standard into other, non-handheld mobile devices.
As a Mac user with a family of Mac users we use iChat and Skype extensively. There is a Skype app for the iPhone, but it doesn’t (yet) do video calls. When it does, and it will, Skype will compete as a commercial app and operation against Apple’s open approach with FaceTime.
The waters could also get murky or murkier if Google decides not to put a FaceTime app out for Android. Would Microsoft or RIM allow FaceTime on their handheld devices?
The promise of video calling may be jump started by Apple, but it may take a few years to see if it becomes a de fact world wide video calling standard, and perhaps many years after that before FaceTime is allowed on the cell phone carrier’s respective networks (video calling is likely to be a bandwidth hog).
For Mac users, we still have iChat and Skype (not to mention a dozen other seldom used protocols). We’ll know Apple is serious about FaceTime when it shows up on the Mac and PC.
That brings up an interesting discussion question: How would FaceTime on an iPhone find FaceTime on your neighbor’s Mac? That’s for the future.