Are We Entering the Era of Mobile Video Chat?

June 28, 2010 by  

It’s clear that video is booming on the web.  Video sharing sites like YouTube and portable camcorders like the Flip have exploded.  Also, as I’ve discussed in previous blog articles and in the recent Businessweek Video Webcast – video conferencing is growing in leaps and bounds.

I’ve seen significant growth in the desktop video conferencing space with services like Skype, Tokbox, and ooVoo being used for everything from virtual meetings and remote collaboration to friends and family keeping in touch.   Thanks to the increase in broadband and wi-fi people can meet face-to-face virtually from almost anywhere.

Well now it looks like video chat/conferencing is about to get even more mobile.   Last week Apple released the iPhone 4 which includes a forward facing camera and a built in program called FaceTime that allows video chatting from iPhone to iPhone.  Also Sprint released the EVO 4G which also includes a front-facing camera and the QIK video chat software. It seems like the natural next step . . .

There is no mistaking that the time is ripe to get into the mobile video chatting game. It is already big enough with tools from Skype, Google (Talk) and others, and it’s only going to get bigger. There are already millions of notebook owners in the mix, and when you add what is likely going to be millions of smartphone and tablet owners, the potential market for video chat offerings is going to be huge.

via Is a Mobile Video Chat Revolution Imminent?.

I’m sure these two phones are only the start of this trend.  In fact you can be sure that once Apple starts to push this envelope others will be soon to follow – much the way that the iPhone invigorated the smartphone market and the iPad has woken up the sleeping tablet market.  I’m still shocked that the iPad didn’t include a camera on it for video chats – but I’m almost certain the next generation will include that feature.  In fact it’s one of the main reasons I didn’t run out and buy one – I’ll wait for the second generation so I can tap into the video.

The stats seems to back up this prediction in a recent report, entitled “Can You See Me Now?: The New World of Consumer Visual Communications,”  by GigaOM Pro. (subscription required):

. . . forecasts that consumers will make 29.6 billion video calls in 2015, up from just 3.2 billion this year. During that time, most video calls will be made over PCs, but by 2015, the number of video calls made over the computer will level out as consumers take advantage of video chat services available on mobile devices and Internet-connected TVs.

The report forecasts that the number of consumers using mobile video chat services will increase from about 3 million in 2010 to 143 million in 2015.

via Mobile Video Chat Revenues to Reach $3.4B by 2015.

One of the key drivers will be the ability to conduct video chats from a mobile handset to a laptop or desktop.  It is my understanding the current technology pretty much works from handset to handset (ie iPhone to iPhone).  While that is useful, I would want to know that if I was traveling I could use my smartphone to video conference with a coworker or colleague at their desk or have a video chat with my child or wife who were home at the computer.

There is also the issue of mobile bandwidth.  With AT&T and other mobile carriers following suit and switching from “unlimited” data plans to tiered pricing the cost of mobile video chats, when not using wi-fi, might delay adoption.

I for one can’t wait to be like Dick Tracy calling someone with video on my watch or phone! How cool would that be? What are your thoughts? Do you think mobile video chat will be the next big thing?  Would you see a use for it? Post a comment and share your thoughts.

  • I'm a big fan of the use of props in video — when you need them to show a product, solve a problem etc. I'm less certain that it's better to be on video just to see a talking head. I posted this… after a communication class I took with Decker. Maybe the difference with a phone based system is that you can walk around and be more energetic?

  • Terri – thanks so much for your feedback! I enjoyed your blog post about this topic and the other related posts linked from it. While I agree there are challenges to video conferencing that might make it detract from a conversation as you suggested (technical difficulties, bandwidth issues, inability to move around) I also find that a much stronger bond is created with the colleagues and clients I Skype with of have video conferences with. This is especially true when this is done over time as it helps build the “know, like, and trust” factor that is essential to relationships and teamwork.

    Yes there are those who might not be comfortable with it and there are times when a simple phone call or conference call might be best – but I think there is a lot of additional value to the personal and rich communication that happens over video.

    Your blog is full of great articles and perspectives about the the use of technology in education and organization. I really enjoy it!

  • Phil,
    What a thoughtful reply. I think I have another example (from my own blog, no less) that supports your point:… Stuart and the Microsoft team have huge experience and spend the time to work with video.

    …and I'm about to call “uncle” and get an iPhone 4. Rest of the family is on Facetime and I'm left out.

  • Terri – please do come back and let us know what you think of Facetime once you've had a chance to play with it. I am eager to know how it works in real life!

  • Mobile video call was there for years in Europe and, I guess Japan had it long before that.
    I'm sure you can find some numbers on when it was first launched in different countries and how many people were using it. I don't think it ever got too big because of the awkwardness of talking to a bobbing head on a small screen while walking on the street.
    From my experience it can be quite sweet to be able to tell your kids good night from afar or show your mom the house you want to buy, but it is not something you do often.
    Now, if you cannot wait to get video on your phone, go check on `fring`. It works on a lot of smartphones, has messaging, audio and video calling and integrates most instant messaging networks plus twitter. Not to mention that it`s free. I used it for a couple of videoconferences and plenty of twitter and I was still way under in my 1GB data limit, but it does drain my battery fairly fast.

    • Madalina – Thanks so much for sharing the info about Fring. I had no idea it supported audio and video. I have an iPod Touch so can’t really test that yet but hopefully the iPhone will make it’s way to Verizon in January and I will be sure to test it out. I would like to learn more about the low acceptance of mobile video chat in Europe and Japan.

      I would think that a lot of uses for it would pop up but I also feel the same way about video email but I find there aren’t too many players in that field. I was sure it was something that Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail would have all added by now.