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Summary:

FaceTime is the name of iPhone 4’s video chatting feature, and the WWDC keynote’s coverage of the feature makes it look pretty impressive. Steve Jobs invoked the full power of his reality distortion field when he opened the FaceTime demo.

FaceTime Product Description

At WWDC, technologies come and go, but there’s one thing that never changes: One more thing…

The infamous “One More Thing” at WWDC is reserved for the most important, most revolutionary, most inspiring feature that Apple expects will change the world. This is the first “One More Thing” since 2007, when it was Safari for Windows, so Apple is pushing its newest technical wonder pretty hard as the feature to sell iPhone 4. From what we saw at the keynote, it’s getting it right.

FaceTime is the name of iPhone 4’s video chatting feature, and the WWDC keynote’s coverage of the feature makes it look pretty impressive. Steve Jobs invoked the full power of his reality distortion field when he opened the FaceTime demo, saying that “[he] grew up with Star Trek communicators, just dreaming about video calling… It’s real now.”

FaceTime promises to offer the first real, mobile video conferencing solution, and Apple is also positioning FaceTime as the first mobile video conferencing solution that will actually be easy to use.

While we obviously haven’t seen it in the wild yet, presumably FaceTime will allow any two iPhone 4 users to call each other up over a Wi-Fi network and have a face-to-face discussion using the iPhone 4’s shiny new forward-facing camera. There are a couple really important points here:

  1. iPhone 4 will have honest-to-goodness video conferencing, which is awesome.
  2. These conversations can take place over Wi-Fi, which means that they won’t eat up your cellular minutes or bandwidth

So, Apple has officially integrated a VoIP client into its newest product. (Eat your heart out, Vonage and Skype.)

However, as you’d expect for a feature that’s so new, there are still a lot of unknown quantities surrounding FaceTime. There was a lot of discussion regarding the features of iPhone 4’s new camera system — larger sensor, 5x digital zoom, better clarity — but it’s not clear if these improvements apply to both the forward-facing and back-facing cameras, or just the back-facing camera. Because it’s looking like the forward-facing camera will be used primarily for video conferencing, which will be highly compressed, it’s tempting to say that the forward-facing camera will be lower-quality than the back-facing camera, but we won’t know for sure until Apple releases full iPhone 4 technical specification. Also, Steve Jobs mentioned that “[Apple needs] to work a little bit with the cellular providers,” so FaceTime will be Wi-Fi only, through 2010 at least.

It’s still unclear what video quality will be like, and there was no discussion whatsoever of the APIs around FaceTime, so it’s hard to say if and how developers will be able to integrate FaceTime into their apps. Also, while the iOS 4 update will be available to everyone June 21, FaceTime will only work if both callers have an iPhone 4. And while it wasn’t mentioned in the keynote, it’s still possible that FaceTime will support more than 2-way calling. So this puzzle is still missing a few pieces, but they should get filled in over the next few days of WWDC.

So what does this mean for the Apple developer community? Well, the iOS 4 update will be available to the world on June 21, so you better believe that developers are poring over the iOS 4 documentation on video conferencing as we speak. The super geeks who already knew this was coming probably already have their ideas primed and ready, so expect to see some serious apps coming out in the next few months. Also, there are some features that people will want to see with FaceTime that they will pay for if they don’t already exist. For example, if FaceTime won’t let people record their conversations, some developer’s likely to get very rich off an app that will.

Regardless, though, if you’ve got some money lying around, you should invest in Dockers right now. Now that video conferencing is entering prime time, people working from home are going to be wearing pants a lot more.

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  1. “but it’s not clear if these improvements apply to both the forward-facing and back-facing cameras, or just the back-facing camera”

    From the their website:
    http://www.apple.com/iphone/specs.html
    “Video recording, HD (720p) up to 30 frames per second with audio” (Rear)
    “VGA-quality photos and video at up to 30 frames per second with the front camera”

  2. Marc Palmer Monday, June 7, 2010

    This is not video CONFERENCING. It is one to one video CALLS. Its a very important difference. I suggest you correct your write up. It does seem pretty cool though but video calling is nothing new over 3G. One can only hope that what is new is the quality and frame rate by using wifi.

    1. I’m not following how that’s any different…

      1. Video conferencing allows many to many conversations and usually requires a server in the network to control all the participants in the conference. It also normally requires the ability to control the audio/video from all the participants etc. Its very much similar to the difference between person to person calling and a conferencing application in the voice world

  3. Gordon Morris Monday, June 7, 2010

    If Jobs’ “one more thing” really was video chat, then iPhone 4 is in trouble.

    This has been around for years. Hardly anyone uses it. A successful video call is dependent on getting a strong, clear, consistent signal for the duration of the call. Most of the time, this doesn’t happen and the call drops (voice calls continue to work because of much smaller data consumption).

    And the data consumption is a big deal. AT&T and Vodafone are stopping all-you-can-eat data deals for pay-per-gig ones. The data cost of video chat will be extortionate.

    As for the rest, Apple now has “selective multitasking”. Didn’t it always have that? And the camera lets you focus by touching the screen. Haven’t auto-focus cameraphones been around for years?

    This isn’t even catching up to HTC or Sony Ericsson.

    1. You “did” read that its only over wi-fi right? so where does att’s bad service come into play? and you are right video over 3g has been around over years, but not over wifi, not with the ability to switch between 2 cameras.

  4. M Tennefoss Monday, June 7, 2010

    Steve Jobs’ inability to make the iPhone 4 work on the Wi-Fi network at MacWorld should come as no surprise. Trade shows are demanding network environments, typified by a high density of client devices concentrated in small areas, and high throughput requirements especially when video is being services. Consumer-class Wi-Fi networking gear- including AirPort Extremes – are not appropriate for these environments. Trade shows demand enterprise-class networks that include features like airtime fairness (prevents slower 802.11b devices from limiting network access by 802.11n devices such as iPhone 4), load-balancing (to ensure that no single access point is overwhelmed), band steering (to force high-speed 802.11n devices to operate in the faster 5GHz band instead of the congested 2.4GHz band), and overlapping access point coverage (so there’s no chance of a single point of failure). Streaming video is particularly challenging for Wi-Fi networks, and requires that the network be aware that video traffic is present and then provision quality of service mechanisms to ensure reliable delivery. If you want bulletproof performance, you need enterprise-class gear.

  5. Supercharged Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    What is the point in wi-fi calls, if they are within one network? You can just walk to your neighbor and talk.

    Maybe we’ve got that wrong and calls are going through the internet, skype-like?

    1. I dont think they ever mentioned “the same network” over the internet sounds more like it, if not they have veeeeery misleading info on their video.

      1. ahh, i finally found it. just want to back SUPERCHARGED up.

        ‘Today Apple announced FaceTime, a new application for the newly announced iPhone 4 that will let iPhone 4 owners chat with one another using video chat. It requires that both iPhone 4 users are on a WiFi network and won’t run over 3G just yet. However, Apple did point out some of its compelling uses, such as allowing two deaf people to communicate using sign language. The service can use either the iPhone 4’s forward facing camera, or its 5 megapixel rear one. It will launch with the phone on June 24th.
        source: Apple’

        although im not sure where the text is posted on apple’s site now.
        anyway the wording says, ‘both users, on A newtork’.
        i guess they mean the same network?

    2. nooo It means any wifi network! not the same network.. that would be completely pointless. The only requirement is that each iphone 4 is connected to A wifi network but doesn’t have to be the same one.

  6. Was anything mentioned that Facetime would work with iChat?

  7. Man, iPhone 4 looks awesome!!!

    -Video conferencing
    -That new display technology
    -and that sleek new case…

    This phone is a geeks dream. :) I’m seriously lusting for one. I just hope at&t could keep up with the almost certain increase in network traffic, due to iPhone 4 subscribers.

  8. Guess what everyone. It does not matter! The phone is loaded! It is going to out sell “everything” again as usual because it kicks azz! It is the most talked about wireless devise ever! The user interface is second to none like the 3G and 3GS version. As of yet from everything I am reading there is no other network that is built out with the volume of capacity like AT&T’s network as well. Forget the little one or two little articles of opinions. Sure there were growing pains, but the fact is they are ahead of the rest. Apple knows this and that is why there is no 3G Verizon version because their network cannot handle the capacity needs as well as lacking the 3G speed when the capacity is at its best. Besides Apple is new to the wireless world and look at where they are. They have the coolest phone on the most capable network hands down. I am out. Thanks for reading.

  9. Guess what everyone. It does not matter! The phone is loaded! It is going to out sell “everything” again as usual because it kicks azz! It is the most talked about wireless devise ever! The user interface is second to none like the 3G and 3GS version. As of yet from everything I am reading there is no other network that is built out with the volume of capacity like AT&T’s network as well. Forget the little one or two little articles of opinions. Sure there were growing pains, but the fact is they are ahead of the rest. Apple knows this and that is why there is no 3G Verizon version because their network cannot handle the capacity needs as well as lacking the 3G speed when the cap is at its best. Besides Apple is new to the wireless world and look at where they are. They have the coolest phone on the most capable network hands down. I am out. Thanks for reading.

    1. sorry for the duplicate. :-)

  10. Good work, Andy.

    It’s interesting that Apple chose to limit FaceTime to WiFi connections only. I wonder how many people would want to take this feature on the road, away from WiFi infrastructure points? How much is that feature worth?

    I wonder because the Sprint Overdrive or the Verizon MiFi (each $60/month) would allow someone to do just that.

    1. Interesting point. I’m not sure how much the feature is really “worth.” It’s definitely cool, but I’m not sure how truly valuable it is. I don’t think I get anything more from a video call than I do from a voice call.

      From what Jobs said at WWDC, it’s clear that “the carriers” (pronounced “AT&T”) are the reason that FaceTime only works over a Wi-Fi network. It also seems that AT&T isn’t worried about people getting “free minutes” on their iPhones by switching to data-only communication over FaceTime when they run out of cell minutes because: (a) the (cheap) all-you-can-eat data plan is (rumored to be) on its way out, so FaceTime likely wouldn’t give you many minutes anyway, and (b) FaceTime only works between to iPhone 4s for now, which means only a very small proportion of AT&T customers could use this technique.

      That says to me that AT&T is worried about capacity. This should come as no surprise to any AT&T wireless customer. Capacity is a chronic issue for the company’s network. (It’s such an issue that that AT&T is actually offering free Wi-Fi in some places, like NYC, to take some of the burden off its saturated towers: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/mobile/05/25/att.free.wifi.nyc.cnet/index.html)

      As far as the Overdrive and MiFi go, because they’re Wi-Fi, you’re right: you’ll definitely be able to use them to make FaceTime calls. But note that those products don’t use AT&T’s network. This is pretty clearly a defensive move on AT&T’s part to keep as much data as possible off its data network.

      AT&T, you do realize that you seriously need to upgrade your data network, right? If Apple ever opens up the doors for the iPhone to operate on any other network — like Verizon’s, just for example — you’ll lose so many customers so fast it’ll make your logo spin.

  11. Ill admit the iPhone 4 is a sexy device. But its still playing catch up in many areas compared to Android. Android is a head overall. All the iPhone 4 has is a really nice screen and thats about it.

    You can read just how iPhone is just playing catch up to Android here:

    http://getyourgadgetsgoing.com/2010/06/10/areas-that-iphone-4-still-crumble-to-android/

    1. it’s pretty easy to find someone who just like to dislike everything apple, android is still really just the copy of everything apple comes out with first.

      1. WELL ITS APPLE THATS LATE ON BUILDING IT WHILE ANDROID HAS CAME OUT WITH IT FOR EXAMPLE I HAD A MY TOUCH AND HAD IT FOR 1 YEAR BEFORE THE IOS4 CAME OUT AND ALL THE THINGS YOU CAN DO ON THE IOS4 I DID IT ALREADY ON THE MY TOUCH AND THE MY TOUCH HAD MORE FEATURES THEN THE IOS4.

  12. Michael Middleton Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Does anyone know if Apple is ever going to develope an FM accessory for the iPhone. There is one that still works for the iPod Touch but not for the iPhone, very annoying!!!

    Thank you

  13. My over 4 years old Nokia N70 could make Video Calls with a VGA-camera.

  14. Does anyone think someone will develop the software so that people with iPhones can video call users on a computer? That would make the device much more versatile especially since the video calling is only available on WiFi anyway. Just wondering if there was any info about such a feature floating around.

  15. the photos are fake. The video quality is far far from what the advertisement shows. This is nothing short of false advertisement.

  16. Nice article. Any idea how Apple manages to have a real-time video encoding over relatively low-end A4 processor? Or are they using other extra graphics hardware?

  17. What do you mean Facetime will not let people to record their conversation?
    I’ve just bought a new soft – special facetime recoder. IMCapture for facetime – it works and records))

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