Apple iPad videoconferencing, just a matter of time

One of the more innovative features of the iPhone 4 is the ability to make 'video calls' through a technology that Apple called Facetime. Facetime is not a groundbreaking, new technology - video calling has been around in different forms for many years already. What is groundbreaking or innovative about it, is that Apple decided the time is right for video calling and that they believe this option should be a standard, easily-accessible, feature on your phone.

Setting up a Facetime call on the iPhone 4 is almost as easy as making a phone call. No need anymore to try and explain to your parents or grandparents what Skype is, how they can install it, and how to use it. All you need is to make sure that you give them an iPhone - for Christmas or something - and it suddenly becomes a lot easier to show them how your newborn son is growing. Not everyone can live within short travel distance of their relatives anymore.

At the moment, you do need WiFi for Facetime calls. With the reliability of mobile datanetworks (e.g. 3G) being rather poor, having a WiFi connection is probably for the better anyway. Having WiFi at your home should not be too much of a problem. If you are able to afford an iPhone 4, you should be able to afford a WiFi setup as well.


Business usage

I do not see Facetime one-on-one video calls becoming very popular among business users. The lack of availability of Facetime devices (limited to the iPhone 4 and the newest iPod Touch at the moment) in businesses is one reason for this. However, the added value of doing a video call with your colleagues or customers is low - unless you need to show something in real time. Also, you both need access to WiFi at the moment of the call, which would be a limitation - for the moment - as well.

iPad revolution

The adaption of another iOS device, might be changing the playing field rapidly. It is amazing how the iPad is accepted by so many new, previously non-Apple, users. What is more amazing, is that it seems a lot of those new users are relatively older people. Those new users seem to embrace the iPad as a new wonder-tool. Finally a device which they can understand and is very comfortable to read email and documents (mostly attachments) on. My prediction is that you will see the iPad (or similar devices) having a 30-50% ownership rate among senior business workers.

Most iPads are still purchased for private usage, yet the owners then start bringing them to work too. Demand for iPad support from their business (IT support) will therefore grow and the same goes for dedicated iPad business Apps. Of course, it will only be a matter of time before businesses will start buying iPads (or similar devices) for their employees.

Facetime on the iPad

In the meantime, Apple will be updating the device (mostly likely it will follow a similar yearly update cycle as the iPhone) and one of the expected additions will be a front-facing camera. That would bring Facetime to the iPad. Video calling will benefit from the large iPad screen but where it will probably make the most of a difference is videocalling with multiple people, i.e. videoconferencing.

There are many - sometimes very impressive - videoconferencing solutions available. They are also all relatively costly. If you want high-quality videoconferencing, expect to pay at least 10k per meeting room (not taking monthly costs into account) - though for the really high-end solutions, prices can sky-rocket a lot higher (I prefer this one myself). The problem is then that you are still dependent on a meeting room.

How does the iPad come into this picture? If Apple can create an easy interface on the iPad to videoconference with other iPad users (through Facetime), that would finally give business users an easy-to-use, affordable solution to do videoconferences. All on a device that the owners would want for multiple other reasons as well.

iPad videoconference mock-up

How would this work? An iPad user would sit in her own office, with WiFi available, preferably having an iPad dock or standard to hold the device in the right position. Someone would set up a Facetime conference (perhaps a central emailaddress can be set for this purpose where everyone could 'connect' to) and everyone would join in from their own iPad. There would be some obstacles that need to be overcome of course. What would you for example do with people who still want to sit in one room with other conference attendees? That would prove a challenge as multiple devices will we outputting and receiving audio in the same room. I am however fairly certain that obstacles like these will be overcome. iPad videoconference, in one form or another, will be coming to your office in the future.

* The above image is a mock-up of what an iPad videoconference might look like. I do hope it will look a bit better than my mock-up. Also, I do not think people often smile/laugh like that in business meetings.

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Bram Braakman • 13 October 2010
Archived under: Reviews


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