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Summary:

Apple TV users really really want to use FaceTime: That’s the result of a admittedly completely unscientific poll of our readership that we did a week ago. And they’re right: FaceTime could be a killer app — all Apple needs now is an HD USB camera.

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Video chat in the living room was one of the big topics this week, with Logitech launching HD video chat on its new Google TV set-top box (dubbed Revue) and Cisco announcing its own consumer video conferencing solution. Notably absent from all of this has been Apple, whose Apple TV has been available for sale for a week now.

Apple TV has so far been a pretty bare-bones offering, albeit a pretty one. The box offers access to iTunes rentals as well as subscription video programming from Netflix, but Apple is expected to launch access to the iTunes app store some time next year. We asked our readers last week what kind of apps they’d like to see on their Apple TV, and one of the most-requested applications of this (admittedly completely unscientific) survey was FaceTime.

Bringing FaceTime to the Apple TV would make a lot of sense for Apple. The application has been a big hit on the iPhone and iPod touch, with some analysts even estimating that it’s the biggest driver for iPhone 4 adoption. Our friends over at GigaOM Pro estimate that we’ll see 2.7 billion TV-based video calls in 2015. It’s only logical for Apple to want a piece of that pie.

And then there’s the fact that the competition is moving slowly, offering Apple a huge opening. Google has its own video chat product, but it hasn’t ported that product to its mobile phones yet. Logitech’s video chat on its Google TV won’t immediately be available for Sony’s Google TV devices, meaning that the only people Revue owners will be able to chat with are other Revue owners willing to shell out another $150 for a HD video camera plus any of the three PC users that actually run Logitech’s software instead of Skype.

However, Logitech’s software is SIP-based, so the company could eventually make its service interoperable with Google Talk, and it’s only a matter of time before Google pushes its own video chat products beyond the desktop.

So what’s left is the question: Can the new Apple TV support FaceTime? The device obviously comes without a video camera, but it does feature a micro USB port. Apple has officially said that the port will be for “service and support,” allowing Apple store employees to restore your device in case things go wrong. However, there’s no good reason why it shouldn’t also be used to attach an external HD USB camera.

Apple started to sell its own iSight video camera in 2003, only to discontinue the product in favor of built-in video cameras in 2006. The original iSight had a Firewire interface, but the internal iSight cameras that can be found in current Macbooks and iMacs actually connect via USB. Adding an external USB camera to its lineup of accessories could help Apple to make the TV device, which comes with a pretty small hardware profit margin, even more profitable.

And finally, there’s the grandparent factor. GigaOM Pro analyst Michael Wolf put it this way when he wrote about the possibility of Facetime on Apple TV back in August:

“(I)t brings in a whole new demographic. While my mom and dad haven’t purchased an Apple product since the Apple IIe of my youth, I’m pretty sure they would consider a good, low-cost video-chat device.”

One of the biggest problems of over the top set-top box makers has been so far do expand beyond the demographic of a young, tech-savvy audience. However, once you have an easy-to-use box that allows HD video chats with your iPhone-using grandkids, you got a killer product.

Related content on GigaOm Pro (subscription required):

  1. If Apple doesn’t change it’s walled garden policies, it will only be a killer app for Apple users. At CES, Skype had partnerships with almost every OEM and will be not only integrated directly into sets but as part of app stores on certain sets as well. Given Skype is cross platform as well (pc, mobile, tv) I think Skype will actually be the bigger killer app for the digital living room and marginalize FaceTime’s adoption.

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    1. First, Apple has announced that FaceTime will be open source.

      Second, I think you’re dead wrong about Skype. FaceTime can be initiated by the push of one button. One button. That’s what matters. Simplicity, ease of use, reliability, user experience. FaceTime has them all. The only thing it’s lacking is ubiquity. And if anyone can push Video chat from a niche product to a mainstream product, it’s Apple.

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      1. It’s called traction and first mover advantage. Skype has it and Apple does not with FaceTime. Just because Apple is going to have it open source (which I personally believe won’t happen) they also have to convince competing OEM’s to carry it. If Samsung has a partnership with Skype, why would they carry FaceTime as well which is part of a competing product (i.e. AppleTV)? The only way I see FaceTime succeeding is if AppleTV fails…

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  2. [...] other iPhone 4 users. The feature has become so popular that some users have suggested FaceTime be extended to Apple TV to compete with similar new consumer video chat applications from Logitech and [...]

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  3. I am sure at one point, we will use Air-play to play y’all the videos including face time right in A-TV….
    It’s going to be once again a MAGIC tough from apple :)

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  4. I think it would be really cool if you could show them what you are currently watching over FaceTime just like you can switch to the rear facing camera on the iPhone 4.

    First they would have to sell you a camera that faces you though.

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  5. [...] Is FaceTime Apple TV's Killer App?NewTeeVeeNotably absent from all of this has been Apple, whose Apple TV has been available for sale for a week now. Apple TV has so far been a pretty bare-bones …Google TV Vs Apple TV: What Differentiates The Two?LANewsMonitor.com (blog)iPhone Apps Put User Privacy at RiskBlack Web 2.0Particle Debris (wk. ending 10/08) Laughing 'Till it HurtsThe Mac ObserverProduct Reviews -ZDNet (blog) -paidContent.orgall 239 news articles » [...]

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  6. I may be wrong, but I believe Apple has committed to making it an open API standard so that FaceTime accessible connections will be free and open to all comers (Google, Msft, Nokia, et al).

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    1. Even if Apple has an Open API, why would any competing mobile carriers use FaceTime on their decks? Or competing OTT manufacturers or OEM’s. Given Skype’s independent and already cross platform (web, mobile, tv) it has a greater chance of gaining the highest penetration across multiple brands. Last time I checked too skype was fairly easy to use and has a pretty significant install base already…

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      1. I appreciate what you’re saying, but if Skype video was really setting America on fire we’d all be using it. At current it’s an inferior implementation of video call technology – anyone who’s used both will tell you this. I use it because I must (for now), but it sucks compared to FaceTime.

        I don’t care who’s moving first, second, or third: if their tech is either insurmountable, awkward, or just unimpressive no one cares. Apple wasn’t the first music player maker and they weren’t the first smartphone maker, but they made each of these markets what they are today.

        As for mobile carriers, I don’t even want to get into the slowly emerging irrelevance there. The only things that continue this conversation are off-net call quality and fringe access. There will be multiple market and technological incursions shortly that will make carrier service a highly commoditized race to the bottom of the revenue spectrum.

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  7. “Would you comb your hair to take a call?” was how one learned analyst summed up the (failure of) video chat technologies of yore.

    That said, if any one could get people to comb their hair to take a call, it has to be Apple. [comb app, anyone?]

    However, even Apple will find this a tough nut to crack. A few reasons: Video calls are intrusive, so people will not always prefer video, when voice will do..just as people will not always prefer voice when text will suffice. So video chat has to overcome texts/tweets and not just voice calls. Also, apple’s walled garden will be a limitation. Apple’s carrier friends are not going to encourage video. Finally, so far, Apple has chosen to stay clear of pron, thus ignoring a huge addressable market.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if some other players get video chat right. Niche segments could play a role as cisco is hoping..also AIR is likely to push many a chatroulette clones on to the droids. If Apple doesn’t take a big step in the coming months, chances are someone else will.

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    1. Agree with most of what you’re seeing but Apple isn’t the business of taking big steps, they’re in the business of taking the biggest profit share. Their ecosystem is pretty impressive and highly seamless, and they’ve already done a substantial amount to pave the way for other device makers in their quest to get control back from the carriers.

      Chatroulette might be fun, but it isn’t going to be the killer app of mobile so skipping that point.

      Agree with what you said regarding the market up to that point. People generally don’t want to have to do anything to use technology. Heck, that’s what got Apple the market they own. I’ve never thought of FaceTime as being nearly as important as Apple’s made it in their ads, and see its utility to be equivalent to getting someone to put on a pair of glasses just to watch TV. This is not how we consume technology.

      Will FaceTime have utility in corporate environments? Well, possibly if we can get corporate to get on a few less planes while really caring if people see each others’ faces.

      I think the message here is videocon really doesn’t matter all that much overall.

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  8. “…Even if Apple has an Open API, why would any competing mobile carriers use FaceTime on their decks?…”

    Well, to enable video chats with iPhone, iPod touch and soon, iPad owners, for one thing. Carrier-based video calling will never succeed if mobile products only video chat with some phones.

    These carriers may not necessarily use FaceTime, but they will have to enable compatibility with it. Apple’s customer base is too big to ignore now. Competing standards certainly will be unveiled — but all carrier and phone manufacturers will have to get their acts together on cross-platform compatibility.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t personally know a single person that uses Skype for video calls and I only know half a dozen or so who use iChat, a few who use AOL Instant Messaging on Macs and/or PCs for video and fewer still that do video chats on PCs only. Of course these metrics are meaningless. On Windows PCs, AOL video chats are conducted using cheap, low quality cameras with tiny, low-resolution caller windows surrounded by ads and it is a miserable user experience. Other than AOL, PC owners can’t easily video chat with Mac owners and it still isn’t easy to get it working properly on PCs…

    Skype may have some traction and “early (rather than first) mover” advantage, but Apple and Microsoft have shipped millions of camera-enable notebook computers and Apple has shipped millions of iPhone 4’s. I’d say that also is traction and an early advantage. And I’m sure that Mac notebooks all will gain FaceTime compatibility at some point soon.

    The bottom line: these latest video calling features are still coming very early in the race for the den/living room and no one vendor has “traction” just yet.

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  9. …Also, Comcast — the largest cable operator — still has about 16 million Internet customers, far fewer credit card accounts than Apple. However, Comcast provides very limited Internet bandwidth in most cities. In the metropolitan Sacramento area, the company can barely service existing Internet customers and maintain 6MBps service for basic Web surfing. In fact, our Comcast Internet service often slows to 400 or 100 kbps during peak usage periods.

    No matter what the first movers in video calling achieve, this “killer feature” isn’t happening anytime soon in many cities because ISP’s like Comcast just aren’t ready with a reliable, nationwide high-speed service.

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  10. [...] from Cisco, Logitech and Skype that enable users to video chat from their TVs. Could the Apple TV be the next product to get FaceTime? Our readers sure hope [...]

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