The new iPhone 4 was just announced. It’s not 4G or HD – just 4. I have to give it to Steve this time – not calling it 4G means he isn’t jumping the LTE wagon just yet. And not calling it HD means he really knows what HD is, and while the display of the new iPhone is impressive, HD it ain’t.
The worst part of it all? It has a front facing camera. And as someone who predicted this isn’t going to happen, I will now have to eat my hat. Lucky for me, I don’t have one.
This new front facing camera comes with “an application” attached to it, called FaceTime. As with everything Apple, I’d call it a service.
What do we know about it?
- It runs only between iPhone 4 devices
- It runs only over WiFi. No 3G
- It supports portrait and landscape
- It starts off as a regular voice call that you can “upgrade” into a video call
IntoMobile on the iPhone 4 FaceTime
What we don’t know yet?
- What protocol does it use? SIP? H.323? XMPP? Proprietary? Apple stated it is based on open standards and that they will make the protocol an “open standard”. Well – we don’t really need another one, do we?
- What video resolutions will it provide? The front facing camera is VGA, so that would be the maximum resolution possible, but can it do that at 30fps? That said, it probably offers better video quality than the available 3G-324M solutions.
- Will it use HD voice or not?
- How much bandwidth will a video call take? How will it handle packet loss, if at all?
- Will it heat up the device in your hand?
- What’s the battery life of the service?
- How will application developers be able to leverage it, if at all?
- Will access to the front facing camera be allowed for developers at all? Will Apple ban video chat applications from their App Store because “this feature already exists in the phone itself”?
And above all – how does this service compare to what is available today for us in mobile video telephony (as implemented in most 3G devices out there, using 3G-324M)? Here’s an attempt to estimate:
|iPhone 4||3G video telephony|
|Network||WiFi (IP, Internet)||UMTS or TD-SCDMA (3G circuit switching)|
|Video codecs||Probably H.264||Mostly H.263 and MPEG4, H.264 in some|
|Video resolution||Probably VGA (640×480), but maybe less||QCIF (176×144)|
|Video frame rate||Probably 15 or more||12|
|Audio codecs||?||AMR and AMR-WB|
|Interoperability||iPhone 4 to iPhone 4 only||Any 3G device with a front facing camera, including ecosystem|
So here’s the novelty in my view:
- 3G video telephony is limited by its bandwidth. By sidestepping it and supporting WiFi, only the iPhone 4 can provide better video quality.
- The iPhone is not a product, it’s a phenomenon. People who own it are part of a tribe: they know about each other and like to talk with each other (mainly about their precious device). Having this service limited only to the iPhone 4 actually makes some perverted sense – it allows Apple to force yet another hardware upgrade on its fans, and one that they will gladly do.
- It is meant for consumers, not businesses. Video calls in enterprises are usually long – longer than Steve can hold the phone upright in his hand to get a decent angle of his face. For consumers it might work, as most calls will probably be short.
Will people get hooked on the service? I am not so sure.
Will it cause other vendors to rush towards video calling over WiFi? Sure it will.
Oh, and if you are such a vendor, then you should know that RADVISION’s solution works with both 3G and WiFi, and interoperates with a variety of devices – it’s called BEEMOBILE.