11/27/2010

PC to Cell Phone Video Calls: New developments make it possible

Yes, iPhones, iPods and other handhelds can finally do live, face-to-face video chat with desktop computers.

Now dial back your expectations a bit -- it's a mixed message today (Saturday, November 27, 2010).

The good news is that three very exciting developments have made big gains toward the communication visions that are a staple of science fiction and comic book fantasy worlds. Skype, Apple's Facetime, Yahoo's Messenger, and Fring have made the inevitable possible in 2010.

However, there are specific problems associated with each service's platform and the devices they can and cannot communicate with.

SKYPE is the long-running VOIP service that broke out as the favorite desktop to phone calling service. It integrated free video calls and became a technical darling as it was heavily promoted by Oprah Winfrey's talk show. Skype has really solid video calling features for computer-to-computer calling over fast internet connections. And there are versions of Skype for most handhelds and even the latest televisions. As of December 31, 2010, Skype became the leader in mobile video chat. This made it possible for PC desktops and iPhones to do video chat over Wi-Fi and and 3G phone lines. 

FACETIME is Apple's impressive new video calling feature launched in conjunction with the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch 4th Generation devices. These are the handhelds that now have a camera on both the front and back. Facetime will only work for these devices; the current iPads have no camera so are not allowed to participate in Facetime. In October 2010 Apple released beta software that will allow Mac computers with a video camera to connect to iPhone 4 and iPod Touch users.

YAHOO MESSENGER has come up with the first fully-supported service to connect desktop video to handhelds. Their service does require that both users have a camera on their computer or device; however the earlier iPhone 2G are not supported by the current software. The video is very blurry over a 3G network connection, but it does work. A fast wireless connection to the internet is suggested. Yahoo Messenger also includes the ability to send images and text chat messages back and forth, as well as do VOIP calls from a desktop to the receiving phone.

FRING has been around for a couple of years, and earlier in 2010 made the first widely available connection between phones and desktops. Unfortunately, their implementation used Skype as the backbone and the two companies had a dispute over the terms of service. So, Fring only supports handheld-to-handheld video conversations at this time. A camera is not required by a receiving device to watch video.


Video Phone calls -- PC Desktop/Laptop to Cell Phone/Handhelds (as of December 31, 2010)

Application Handhelds PC Desktop Mac Desktop Notes
SkypeiPhone 3G/3GS
iPhone 4
iPod Touch 4th Gen
yes yes YAY! It works for communications between PC desktops, Macs and Apple mobile devices. Video is a bit slow and choppy, but communicates between various versions of Skype. AND receiving caller does not need to have a camera to enjoy video.
Facetime iPhone 4
iPod Touch 4th Gen
no yes Beta version for Mac products.
WiFi required.
Very good quality.
Receiving handhelds must have front-facing camera.
Yahoo Messenger iPhone 3G/3GS
iPhone 4
iPod Touch 4th Gen
Android devices
yes yes Both ends must have cameras.
Back-facing cameras do work, but kind of awkward for calls.
Does not do video on earlier iPhone 2G despite camera.
Low quality over 3G networks.
Fast WiFi suggested.
Fring
iPhones
iPod Touches
iPads
Android devices
no no Did briefly utilize Skype to do video calls to desktops, but stopped service in July 2010.
No desktop client software available now.
No camera required by receiving phone.

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