Cell phones are capable of just about anything these days it seems. Instant E-mail and data, high-resolution cameras, video-streaming, Web surfing that’s close to a desktop browsing experience. And most of them are still capable of making phone calls too. If these standard features don’t do everything and more, there’s probably an app for whatever it is you’re missing.
Most smart phones of today have about the same processing power as most PCs just 10 short years ago, and the amount of uses we’ve found for them isn’t even comparable. But despite the large feature sets of phones today, there is one feature that hasn’t caught on: video calling.
Sure, there are many phones capable of video calling, but most use their high definition cameras for recording of events for future playback rather than live video calling. In the case of calls, most still prefer voice-only.
Only seven percent of Americans have tried video calling on their cell phones, according to the Pew Research Center.
And this isn’t due to lack of product availability. In fact, many smart phone makers have some form of video assisted calling already.
Perhaps the most successful of them has been Apple’s FaceTime, its version of video calling for the iPhone. Apple claims that they are “bringing video calling to the world.”
Promotional materials for the service featured users in situations meant to appeal to its prospective buyer’s emotions—a mother and her infant son talking to the little boy’s father who appeared to be far away on business; grandparents looking on as their granddaughter showed off her graduation robe; a soldier at war talking with his significant other, who’s just learned she’s pregnant.
While the advertisements were all very touching, I’m not sure they’ll sell the service more than any of the others out there. Right now, iPhone still isn’t meant to be a full-featured videophone. It is just another phone that happens to have video capabilities.
For consumers, video calling is just another spec lost in an array of other more desirable features, leaving those in the tech trying to figure out why it hasn’t reached its tipping point yet.
Arguably, the technology enabling video calling is adequate enough and most services are relatively affordable and easy to use, meaning there must be something else holding up the masses.
I think there’s a rather simple explanation: video is just too personal.We’ve gotten comfortable talking on the phone in part because it’s easy. We don’t have to devote our complete attention to our conversations most of the time and we like it that way.
Unlike face-to-face conversation or video calling, one doesn’t have to have to look interested; merely sounding interested is good enough. We can even be doing something else while we’re talking on the phone—like loading the dishwasher or even driving. Video calling requires unbreakable attention and once that devotion to the conversation stops, the phone call is just as good as done.
We’ve seen the same phenomenon with Skype, which boasts its video-calling capabilities as its killer feature. The company probably doesn’t want you to know that less than a third of Skype conversations actually include video.
When we call Grandma on Sunday morning, we don’t want her to see how obviously hung-over we are, or Mom and Dad to see that we’re watching television instead of doing schoolwork.
Right now, we’re just not ready for the face-to-face conversations video calling brings and, according to analysts, we won’t be ready any time soon. By 2015, only 29 million people will use it, according to the market analysis firm, Jupiter Research. Will you be one of them?
Preston Johnson is a technology enthusiast who focuses on writing about new technology, trends, and ethical concerns relating to technology in our modern age.