Mobile video calling, as my colleague Kevin Tofel points out, can be a powerful experience. The problem, however, is that it’s not always a very spontaneous thing. With all the restrictions and hurdles attached, mobile video calling is often a measured process that falls short of achieving its full potential. It doesn’t happen anywhere and any time we want it to, which is a key tenet of this mobile era.
That’s the hole that Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup Tango hopes to fill. The company is trying to blend the ease of use of Apple’s FaceTime with the broader power and flexibility of mobile apps like Fring and Qik. In the process, it’s aiming to build something that goes beyond the limitations of existing video calling apps. FaceTime is only available through iOS devices and only works over Wi-Fi. Qik allows you to connect over 3G but it currently only works via Android devices with front-facing cameras. Fring enables video calls between iOS and Android devices and works over 3G, but it requires you to create a profile and is a little more complex than Tango.
Tango, a free app that launched today at the Mobilize conference, works over both Wi-Fi and 3G and connects iOS and Android devices. It doesn’t require you to have a front-facing camera for video calls, though a person without a dual-camera device won’t be able to see the person they’re talking to. The service is pretty simple, as it only asks you to register your phone number and then identifies other friends in your contact list who have also registered with the service. One touch in your Tango address book and you’re making a phone call. You can also receive calls through push notifications when the app is closed, switch between cameras in the same way that you do with FaceTime, and turn off the camera and just go to audio if you like. The service will work anywhere, provided you have decent connectivity. And since it can work across platforms, there are more than two dozen devices you can connect to.
Tango still suffers from uneven picture quality at times, but solutions like Tango are going to be crucial to popularizing mobile video calling, which is still too shackled by limitations. As we start to eliminate some of these hangups and make the process of initiating and receiving a call dead simple and accessible anywhere, then we can start to think about mobile video chatting becoming a mainstream phenomenon.
Tango, which is led by Uri Raz and Eric Setton, recently closed a round of $5 million in funding from investors Bill Hambrecht, Michael Birch, Bill Tai, and Daniel Scheinman.
Related research from GigaOM Pro (subscription req’d):
- Shopping Matters When it Comes to Location-Based Apps
- How Google Voice Could Change Communications
- Report: The Consumer Video Chat Market, 2010-2011