Ooh! Shiny! A report from the front lines of video calling

I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet on the topic of FaceTime, the iPhone’s video calling feature, because I don’t use it very often.

When I have used it, I’ve been floored by the quality of the images and the call itself. The high-resolution, back-facing camera delivers great video. I know that realtors, travelers, and parents of small children love it. But there just aren’t that many times in my day when I need to show someone what I’m looking at in real time. And even fewer times when I want them to see what I look like!

But FaceTime is so darned slick that I’ve been reluctant to admit that it just isn’t on my Top 10 apps list. Turns out, though, I’m not alone.

Today the Pew Internet & American Life Project (a group I expect to be mentioning frequently on this blog) released a report on “Video calling and video chat,” covering both phones and desktop two-way video communication.

About three-quarters of the adults Pew surveyed use the internet (I have to admit, I found this number low) and nearly one-quarter of them have experienced internet video calls, chats or teleconferences. Some 85 percent of adults have cell phones, but of those only 7 percent have experienced video calling.

I wasn’t surprised that the figures were that low. While there are quite a few phones available with two-way video capability (this CNET review lists the devices from Sony Ericsson, Apple, LG, Nokia, and Motorola), they are still relatively small proportion of total cell phones — and for full-featured video calls, both parties must have phones with video-call capabilities.

Fring: An option for video calling.

I’m very curious to see what happens when Skype gets into the mix, allowing iPhone users to bypass AT&T. Andru Edwards at GearLive reports that you can now do front-camera (relatively low-resolution) video chat using Skype from an iPhone — and talk with Skype users on an iPhone 4 or on computer with a webcam. It requires a free app called Fring.

I haven’t had a chance to test this yet, but would love to hear from people who are trying Fring. What devices are you using? How does it work on the iPod touch?

About Karen Anderson

To paraphrase Mark Morris, "I'm a writer; I write!"
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2 Responses to Ooh! Shiny! A report from the front lines of video calling

  1. Doug Plummer says:

    You know, maybe this is a feature in search of an audience that just isn’t clamoring for it. When I had a series of assignments last spring that kept me away from home for 3 weeks, Robin and I tried Skype a couple of times, but it didn’t significantly heighten our sense of connection. That was driven by the 2x a day phone conversations, which were more spontaneous and required less effort. Lately we’ve been texting each other more, which has an even lower investment threshold for maintaining connection. Thus we do it more frequently.

  2. Tom’s traveling next week, so we’re likely to use Skype on the computers. I think I’d use FaceTime if I were doing something like antiques shopping and wanted to be able to show Tom what I’m considering buying. But he doesn’t have an iPhone 4…so we run up against the equipment barrier. I’d just take some photos and send them by email. It’ll be interesting to revisit this topic in a couple of years, won’t it?

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