As the cameras and screens of smartphones and tablets improve, and as wireless networks offer higher bandwidth, more companies are getting into the business of enabling mobile video calls.
Mobile video calling has risen so quickly that industry analysts have not yet compiled exact numbers. But along the way, it is creating new business models, new stresses on mobile networks and even new rules of etiquette.
“All the communications — social messages, calls, texts and video — are merging fast,” said Eric Setton, co-founder and chief technology officer of Tango Mobile. And mobile video has caught the attention of big companies. Apple created FaceTime and made it a selling point for the iPad.
Last week, Yahoo purchased a video chat company called OnTheAir. And in 2011, Microsoft paid $8.5 billion for Skype, a service for both video and audio-only calls. Though most people use Skype on desktop and laptop computers, the software for the service has been downloaded more than 100 million times just by owners of phones running Google’s Android mobile operating system. Microsoft built a service for its Windows 8 mobile phone that lets people receive calls even when Skype is not on.
Google, which has more than 100 million people a month using its Google Plus social networking service, now offers more than 200 apps for its video calling feature. It says it is interested not in making money on the applications, but in learning more about them so it can sell more ads by getting people to use its free video service, called Hangouts. Hangouts can be used for two-person or group calls, or for a video conference with up to 10 people.
The prospect of having to appear on-screen at any given moment might sound like a nonstarter for people who worry about bad hair days. But in fact, using mobile devices for video calls may be less bother than it seems.
“There may be natural inhibitions to being seen, but when I’m on a mobile device I’m out and about, so I’m more likely to be presentable,” said Michael Gartenberg, a consumer technology analyst at Gartner. “How people use this remains to be seen, but they are starting to expect it.”
Yet a new etiquette for mobile video calls is already emerging. People often text each other first to see if it’s O.K. to appear on camera. Video messages sent in the text box of a phone, like snippets of a party or a child’s first steps, are also useful precursors to video conversations.
The greatest challenge for the business may not be getting more consumers to use the service, but making sure the service works. Most phones have slight variations in things like camera placement and video formatting from one model to the next since a camera can show you upside down if you load the wrong software on it.
As a result, engineers have to adjust their software to work on more than 1,000 types of phones worldwide. The top 20 models have more than a million customers each, but the complexity of building software for a wider range of phones has made it hard for new mobile video companies to enter the field.
Source: Original article The New York Times