Videocalls: a visible future?

04 March 2010

In 1994, the Simpsons ran an episode entitled ‘Lisa’s Wedding’, set in 2010. This clip highlights their understanding of the future.

However, now we are actually in 2010, the general sentiment is that videophones are ‘so’ late 1990’s.

Given any form of conversation is all about two way interactions, it is perhaps a technological anomaly that videophones have somewhat failed to capture the world’s imagination.

Unfortunately, video calling had a couple of things working against it. Firstly, in order to remain in shot, the need to walk around with your phone held directly in front of your face is a look that for some reason, never caught on. Secondly, once the pointlessness of video calling someone without a camera  was realised and the technology was made widely available, mobile phone operators pushed video call tariffs high enough to induce a mild dose of vertigo. But thirdly (and what proved the death knell) was the fact that most people, actually, didn’t want to see who they were talking to. “That’s called real life” they said, “and we’ll keep that and telecommunications separate, thank you very much”.

The result of course, is that videocalls never really happened. As a result, in the last 18 months, handset manufacturers such as HTC have been ditching front-facing cameras e because, “Nobody uses them.”

This established landscape is now dramatically shifting. 2010, as the Simpsons predicted with Nostradamus style accuracy, is already shaping up to be the year that the world starts to get to grips with video and voice technology becoming a cohesive package.

This week, has seen a number of television manufacturers announce the integration of Skype video call technology into their sets, meaning before long, living rooms around the world will be fully equipped in high-end video conferencing technology (and you’ll get to chat to your mum in widescreen – weird).

What is even weirder however, is the number one web 2.0 explosion of 2010 so far. Foursquare? Nope. Chatroulette; the site which randomly pairs you with another webcam-enabled user whenever you click ‘next’. It provides full voice and video communication, with complete strangers. And despite being only four months old, it already draws in 500,000 unique monthly users and is growing exponentially.

Clearly, the complete lack of demand for voice and video is over. Only last month, we saw a significant backlash against the iPads lack of camera, followed by a huge ongoing rumour-mill when information became apparent that maybe it did after all. But where and when has this change in attitude come about?

That is not so clear, but perhaps one of the biggest influences is the support of young people, who are more used to the video-centric world of today, and can’t even remember the days of rotary phone dials. All in all, whilst it certainly won’t be the case that video calls will revolutionise mobile telecoms anytime soon, it is somewhat inevitable that they will perhaps now, slowly but surely, start becoming more and more important.

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