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The iPhone 4 – Another Catalyst?

iphone4 Press Photo 1Like 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.

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One Comment

  1. Juho Somiska says:

    Hi Bill,

    I read your latest blog and found it interesting though at the same time I just felt the need to add some thoughts.

    First of all it was quite US centric (which I of course understand). By that I mean that we’ve had the video calls over gsm network here in Europe for years. In Finland for example we’ve had that from 2002. So Nokia has had that feature on their phones for 8 years now. You can have a video call with anyone who has that feature on his/her mobile phone (any vendors phone). You can switch from front camera to back camera on the fly (“See me, or see what I see” is how Nokia called it).

    What you can’t do with Nokia phone is to have a video call over Wi-Fi or switch normal call to video call. But then again Apple’s video call is at this point Wi-Fi only and only to another iPhone 4…

    Hardly anyone uses video calls though. According to a finnish study in 2009 only 4% of 3G device users used it.

    I think that Apple did again what they so often do. They announced some “ground breaking fancy new features” despite the fact that other vendors have had them available already for years and years. And markets praise them for being a truly innovative company. Got to respect Jobbs keynotes though. Every company would need a CEO like him.

    Damn, they even stole Nokia’s slogan: “Connecting people”…

    Rgds,
    - Juho

    p.s. I also have iPhone as my private phone and simply love the way it works (simplicity and reliability). I will definetely install iOS 4, but I won’t buy iPhone 4. Instead my next phone will be the 1st Nokia MeeGo device (once they announce it and it comes available. Will probably be called Nokia N9)

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