Skype, FaceTime Change The Game


FaceTime, Apple's client-side video conferencing application, doesn't provide telepresence-quality HD or crystal clear sound. It's not a function that can be managed centrally by businesses. It's not available on anything other than WiFi-based broadband networks (unlike applications that work on non-AT&T-based 4G networks, as T-Mobile points out in its endless TV commercials in the U.S.)

But what FaceTime does bring to the table might be enough to finally re-write the rules for live video communication. Over the span of the better part of a month, we've had the chance in the CRN Test Center to look at whether FaceTime offered any remarkably different functions or solutions to typical Webcam-based, client-based video conferencing.

It does, significantly. Until now, no single video conferencing application has been put into more hands and allowed such amazing mobility as what is available on Apple's Mac OS X and iOS platforms. No single video conferencing platform has achieved this degree of ubiquity. Until now.

In both the mobile version of FaceTime, via iPod Touch and iPhone, as well as the beta version available now for Mac OS X, video is simple, straightforward and works.

Video calls are made to those on your contact list, incoming calls can be answered the same as standard voice calls and the on-board video camera, microphone and speakers do work well. Performance is about the same on either an iPhone or a MacBook Air -- even though one standard computing benchmark, Primate Labs' GeekBench, places compute performance on the iPhone at a fraction of what it is on the Air.

Even with the big hit against FaceTime on iPhone being that it doesn't work on 3G networks, it's still a great application because it's available for you on WiFi networks whether you're on a Mac or on the run with an iPhone.

But the WiFi-only argument for video on iPhone is no longer relevant.

Skype is a different story. Like FaceTime, Skype video works on Windows-based PCs -- but now also on iPhones whether they are connected via WiFi or 3G. We tried out Skype video on the iPhone and it, too, works just fine. (Skype's recent outage aside.)

Skype and Apple have been able to do what, to date, no one else have accomplished: bridge the gap between video conferencing on a computer and on a smartphone.

With Apple days away from launching its Mac App Store, which gives developers the chance to sell applications built for and around Apple's Mac platforms, the potential for ISVs to make further advances in client-side video conferencing are seemingly endless.

Three years ago, SMS text messaging was widely used just as client video chat and conferencing is used today. But once Verizon and AT&T introduced unlimited texting plans, SMS became available for a massive cross section of the IT market, became as broadly used as voice messaging and e-mail.

FaceTime and Skype have been free applications and now, because they support broad-based Mac, iOS (and, in the case of Skype, Windows) platforms, they are now available to the broader market. It's clear that the emergence of client-side video communication – mobile or desktop-based – is capable of SMS-like adoption.