The iPhone 4 – Another Catalyst?
Like virtually everyone in the mobile industry, I too, have a number of observations and opinions about the upcoming Apple iPhone 4. My first impressions are that I am enthusiastic about this device and think it will likely be a great success for Apple.
I absolutely intend to upgrade my current 3GS to iOS 4, on the 21st of June, when it is released. But, will I buy an iPhone 4? Absolutely, and in fact, I will be acquiring at least 2 over the coming months, with one very near the release date.
So why would I do this? Well, besides the obvious new features of the iPhone 4 – the remarkable Retina Display, slimmer design and form-factor, upgraded camera, LED flash, and front-facing camera – I think that the open industry standards-based FaceTime will become a catalyst for an upsurge of video calling applications and capabilities across the industry.
The promise of full-on video calls has been around for decades. Only now, with advanced 3G and WiFi networks has this become a reality on mobile devices. Video calls and video conferencing via PCs and dedicated equipment has been around for a long time; however, it is not ubiquitous or particularly interoperable, across differing service communities. Of course, today, neither are video calls over mobile networks. Some of the smartphone apps out there today are nothing more than extensions of PC clients. Others like Skype and Fring will support video calls within their applications. Like Instant Messaging is still not interoperable among most of the various IM communities, PC based video calling is not interoperable either.
In the beginning, SMS or MMS was not interoperable. Subscribers could only send/receive messages from subscribers of the same networks. In the early days of GSM, CDMA, and even TDMA, only some handsets supported SMS and fewer still supported MMS (TDMA never did support MMS). This is where we are with video calling today. But, there is the possibility that a service like FaceTime could become the catalyst to change that.
FaceTime, as outlined by Steve Jobs, in his World Wide Developer’s Conference keynote address, noted that FaceTime was based on various “open industry standards.” He went on to cite H.264, AAC, SIP, TURN STUN, ICE, RTP, and SRTP as being some of the technology standards behind that. I see that as good news and one that presents opportunities for other, competing services to try to make theirs as easy to use as what FaceTime is purported to be. Certainly the Apple marketing videos are compelling. If the industry can come together and realize that any service that provides a means for people to communicate, person to person – whether or not it is messaging, voice, or video – this medium should be interoperable across service providers and service communities.
Today, the worldwide explosion of SMS (and MMS to a lesser extent) is partially due to interoperability of this standard across operators around the world. Apple did a good thing by setting out a set of open standards that they used in their handsets for video calling. I fully expect to see other vendors and handset OEMs provide similarly compatible services, within the year.
FaceTime may not be the first, or the best video calling service, but it has been presented well, and it is built into, what will likely become, a very popular mobile device. Once launched, it will only work via WiFi networks and iPhone 4 to iPhone 4, but, I expect even that will change, as more services rush to try to offer some compatibility and Apple updates the service in the coming months and years. Therefore, Apple is, once again, a catalyst for the industry.