Last weekend, I finally had my eureka moment around mobile video chat. It’s gonna be big, perhaps as big as 29.6 billion video calls made in 2015 as one of our analysts reported last year (sub req’d) and perhaps even bigger. So to all the naysayers who think video chat is uncomfortable, hear me out.
To me, the only issues to adoption are getting the mobile and standards networks in place to support it, and the handsets that have the front-facing cameras in more people’s hands. With FaceTime, (s aapl) Skype’s latest mobile client (s msft) , Google (s goog) Video on Android phones, Tango and services like fring, the apps are already there. The eureka moment around mobile chat occurred because my family is looking for a new house. At one site, I wanted both to calm my four-year-old who was running around the nail-strewn home site like a tornado on Red Bull and to show my mom in Houston what the home looked like and reached for my phone.
My plan was to snap a few photos for my mom and then hand my daughter the handset for a calming game of Angry Birds. But as I held it, I realized the Skype Mobile video chat app would be a far better solution to both my problems. And just like that, I was convinced of the value of video chat.
Unfortunately, my handset doesn’t work with Skype’s mobile video client, but since that moment, I’ve seen opportunities where I would use the service if it were available. For example, snapshots of a home can’t convey the kind of layout information a video can, and a video of my daughter doing her first dive at the pool is very different from a picture of the same thing. Getting a briefing on a complex technology via video is far more engaging than the same one done via a phone call and PowerPoint.
So now, when I espouse the wonders of video chat on laptops or mobiles (especially mobiles) and people say they don’t want to talk and see others at the same time, I understand. Video chat isn’t for talking on the phone, that’s what the phone part of a phone is for. Video is for those other moments when a moving picture matters. Video chat will be additive to our communications portfolio, because for some situations, it will provide a better experience. The trick is getting users to find those experiences and making sure that when they find them, the technology is easy to use.
Think about texting. No one in the U.S. originally saw a lot of value in texting because of the high price. The price, character limits, numeric keyboards, etc. slowed adoption. But, as prices went down, people realized that texting served a real need (“I’m running 5 minutes late,” “Can you get milk,” etc.) and better keyboards evolved to help make it easier to send those 160-character messages. Heck, now we wring our hands about how many people text as opposed to talk.
As carriers (or app makers) roll out new services, there’s always an education period when people try to understand why they might want to send a photo image via their phone, but as their friends try out the technology and devices start integrating those features, it becomes just another means for communication. And if you think that video chat will be any different because you can’t imagine taking a call while wearing no makeup and your workout clothes, it just means you haven’t found your killer video chat app yet. I have, and I can’t wait.