Why will Apple succeed with video call service

Posted on June 25, 2010

I got my new iPhone 4 yesterday, despite a catastrophic SIM activation (thank you so much Orange…) it’s now working. In case you didn’t follow what new features were brought in this new version Apple is trying to revive the video conferencing through a feature called FaceTime, but why would they succeed when the video calls never really took off?

A bit of history

February 2005

I got my first 3G phone a Nokia 6680. It was the first 3G / Video phone available by Orange at the time. At the time finding someone with a video capable phone was hard, but to try and launch this service Orange was offering free video calls on their network. That was the old times where no one hardly had a data plan on their phone so bandwidth utilization was not a concern.

Did the service take off at this point? Nope. Why? I think there was 3 factors.

The first one was technological, the screen is tiny, the quality of the video is quite poor so it wasn’t really interesting for the users.

The second one was the applications, why would you need it? Was their any killer device out there to make you want one at any cost? Was their any killer software around? No! The only interest would be to talk with your friends in video, but there why would you do it? Can’t you wait to get back home and use Skype where you’d have a bigger screen and higher quality video for free?

The final one, would be support! Why support? Who was really promoting the video over 3G? The mobile operators and some vendors. Did you see big adverts about this service? I didn’t the only adverts I saw were from the mobile operator or the phone manufacturers.

So what was the business model? It’s hard to tell but clearly they was no real decision from anyone to push the service… For manufacturers it didn’t really change much, most of the phones already had a camera and the video stack had been implemented in their software. For mobile operators it was more of a feature to attract people on their brand new 3G networks.

June 2010

This is where it gets interesting, at the WWDC (Apple’s developer conference) Steve Jobs introduced the video call functionality called FaceTime available only on iPhone4. How is it different from the previous services? First of all currently FaceTime only works over WiFi between iPhone4 (not sure if it works between carriers must test that but it should as it uses WiFi) and secondly … It’s Apple!

The “Its Apple” is the most interesting part of it all, the technology is not revolutionary at all, it’s probably derived from iChat and video calls exist since 2005. But what Apple is really good at is marketing. How many iPhones were sold on the launch date? Estimates say around 1.5 Million find me another device that did that well! Why is everyone (including me) running to get this new iPhone? It’s a phone, you can call with it, it has a camera like most phones, just like BlackBerry and Androids there is an AppStore.

There are a few things that make the success of Apple

– The Fan Boys, lots of buyers are really Apple fans, there are committed to Apple and can even accept problems they wouldn’t with other products (the signal issue for example). They are really captive customers and acquainted to Apple’s cause.

– The simplicity, it’s just so easy to use, update and so on… On the other hand a mobile phone is also very easy to use, but where can you get a PDA / entertainment / phone device that works out of the box, with tons of applications and very stable? Android? I doubt it’s more of a geek device where you can do almost anything. Blackberry? It’s more of a business device even though they are making huge efforts to add new functions in order to change it to a mobile entertainment device. The iPhone is to my sense the only device that can provide a work and play device (it’s even trying to compete with the PSP/DS!).

– The design, it’s just beautiful Apple has always invested lots of energy in the design making it the “hype” device. Geeks may love it for technology though it’s limited (for their use) but most people will love it for the design / functionality / fashion (with a strong + on fashion).

So where is the difference

They are quite a few differences with the previous model, the biggest one being the fact it’s driven by the manufacturer and not the mobile operators, but lets cover some of the differences

  • The first one, the adoption remember, estimates say that Apple sold 1.5 million devices, that means 1.5 million potential FaceTime users and that number will grow.
  • The second one, remember it’s simple and nice, the screen is bigger and quality is better.
  • The third one, it doesn’t require the mobile operators to get new setups on their network because it will go through WiFi (remember what Steve said on that point, currently). I suppose the idea is to create a user base on WiFi to push phone operators to deploy the service for a fee.
  • The forth one, video is taking a bigger importance in our lives think of Cisco TelePresence for example, you’re getting used to video conferencing
  • The biggest one, guess who’s going to do the marketing? Apple will. And they are REALLY good at that. Remember they will be marketing their product to get more sales, they don’t really care about the mobile operator (to a certain extend) so if they really want it to take off they’ll do what is necessary.

With that I’m certain the video is going to take off, even though there are quite a few glitches at the moment (the quality is highly dependent on your network connection) but on another hand remember this is release 1!


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