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Will Apple's iPhone Make Video Calls Mainstream?

14 June 2010
Apple's introduction of the iPhone 4 on Monday didn't take anyone by surprise, given the leaks about the phone--still, it looked quite good. I like the faster processor, (limited) multitasking in the OS, and the higher-resolution screen. But I'm most intrigued with the idea that this may help make video calling more mainstream.
It does, however, lead to a number of questions that still need to be answered. The device itself is very thin, with a stainless-steel band that integrates the antennas into the structure of the phone. Up close, the Apple iPhone 4 eliminates the smooth edges of its predecessors for a more defined edge. It runs on the same A4 CPU that's used in the iPad, and a larger battery is supposed to bring it longer life, up to 10 hours of browsing time on Wi-Fi.
The display measures 3.5 inches long, with a 960 by 640 pixels, IPS LCD as its foundation. That means it has four times the number of pixels in the same space at the previous iPhone did, for a total of 326 dots per inch. This should be a lot sharper, both for text and images. Steve Jobs called it a "retina display," meaning that the pixels are so small that from the 10-to-12-inch-inch distance you typically see the screen, you can't see individual pixels.
The iPhone 4 also has a gyroscope: You can tie it, the accelerometer, and the compass together to provide an axis for gaming. And the main camera is now a 5-megapixel cameras with a backside illuminated sensor, digital zoom, and 720p HD video capture.
The iPhone OS 4 is now just iOS 4 (iOS has historically been the name of a Cisco enterprise product, which Cisco licensed to Apple) and has, as expected, a degree of multitasking, a new folder system, and a unified inbox. And on the software side, Apple introduced iMovie for iPhone for $4.99 (which makes lots of sense, and would be even more appropriate for the iPad, if the iPad had a camera). And I'm happy to see native support for PDFs, as well as annotations on the iBooks application for iPad. A 16GB model will cost $199 and a 32GB model will cost $299, with the 8GB 3GS for $99, going on sale June 24th
But what I find most intriguing is what Apple is calling FaceTime video calling: the ability to place a video call over the iPhone using either the front-facing or rear-facing cameras. My guess is the front-facing camera will be used most (even though it is lower resolution), because you'll want to look at the screen while talking. But using the rear-facing camera might be a great way of sending video of an event live to a friend.
Yet there are still a lot of questions here. Apple said FaceTime was based on open standards such as H.264 video and AAC audio and said it would be talking to standards committees,. But to really work, this needs to be an industry-wide standard. The current version of iChat (Apple's video chatting tool for the Mac) uses H.264, but Apple pointedly did not talk about FaceTime/iChat interoperability. Many other tools support that codec as well, but again interoperability is key. It would be good to be able to connect a call from an iPhone 4 to a Sprint HTC Evo, for instance. Most importantly, most people want to be able to call Skype.
Another question is network support. For this year, at least, video calling is limited to Wi-Fi, which makes sense given that AT&T's 3G network is overloaded anyway. But because Jobs said this was was "for 2010," you can speculate that when LTE networks are built, those might work for video calling too. It's unclear exactly how much bandwidth video calls on the iPhone 4 will use, and with AT&T's new data caps and plans, that will be an issue as well.
And of course, we can't really judge the quality until we try the actual devices.
Finally, it leads to the question of when we'll see an iPad with a front-facing camera, which of course would be perfect for video calling. My guess would be this fall, when Apple has said iOS 4 will be on the iPad, but we'll see.
What's great about Apple pushing video calling is that you know it will make other devices follow in the same vein. The iPhone 4 is far from the first phone to have these features; others including the Sprint HTC Evo 4G are already incorporating them. But with Apple pushing the feature and making it so easy to use, anyone trying to compete with the iPhone will have to add it as well. Again, there will undoubtedly be differences in quality, but I certainly hope everyone can agree to basic interoperability standards here.
Source: By: Michael Miller; Michael Miller's blog
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