A slew of new smart phones, tablet computers, and even TVs with front-facing cameras were announced at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, opening the way for video calling to become the next big trend in communications. There’s just one problem: a lack of interoperability between different video-chat platforms could mean frustrations for users.
Video calling was a key feature of many of the smart phones unveiled at CES—like the LG Revolution. Fourth-generation, or 4G, data networks that are being rolled out by mobile operators provide the bandwidth needed to deliver high-quality video to mobile devices. “We’re hearing from carriers across the board that the number-one use case for 4G is video calling,” says Jonathan Christensen, head of platform at Skype, the Luxembourg-based company that makes voice and video communications software. The reliability and speeds offered by the new networks add up to a video experience that matches that on a PC, Christensen says.
Indeed, when Sprint launched the first 4G phone in the United States in 2010, the HTC Evo, it made a point of focusing on video calling (via an app called Qik) in its promotion of the device. Last month, Verizon switched on its own 4G network, based on Long Term Evolution technology. And at CES it announced a new Skype video-calling app for phones and other devices that use its 4G network, including the LG Revolution and the HTC Thunderbolt. Both phones are capable of HD 720p quality video. Verizon’s new 4G tablets, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Motorola Xoom, are also expected to offer Skype when they launch in the next few months.
Meanwhile, Google’s tablet version of its Android operating system, announced last week, includes a new Google Chat video-calling app. And when the iPhone appears on Verizon in a few months it will substantially expand the user base for Apple’s FaceTime video-calling service.
In the living room, CES saw Sony and Vizio announce that they would add Skype functionality to new Internet-connected TV sets, a feature already offered in some models from Panasonic and Samsung. The networking company Cisco, which leads the business videoconferencing market, also launched a service called Cisco Videoscape that provides TV content and video calls via the Internet. And Google TV owners can already make video calls from their TV if they are using Logitech’s Google TV box.
“Video calling is coming of age because it is now available on multiple platforms, including TV and mobile,” says Eric Kintz, VP of Logitech’s video business unit. “Today, many users schedule video calls in advance and keep them short, but I think that is now changing.”