Way back in the last century science fiction brought us the video call. It was on Star Trek (but oddly, not on the Communicator) and other popular TV shows and movies, but even as we’ve wired the earth with a giant high speed network, video calls just haven’t caught on.
True, Skype is used. So is FaceTime. So a dozens of other face-to-face video calling apps, options, and services, but most of the time, when we call someone up, we call the old fashioned way. Audio. On a phone. Worse, a huge chunk of younger humankind keeps in touch by typing and sharing photos. Whatever happened to the promise of video calling?
The technology, the network, and the necessary bandwidth are here already, but you’d be hard pressed to find a popular television show where the actors communicate with others using Skype or FaceTime. What’s the problem? A little investigating indicates that the problem is a multitude of problems.
Skype just announced a new version which brings in group video calls for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. Our devices– PCs, smartphones, tablets– and bandwidth are sufficiently powerful that multiple streams of audio and video can be cobbled together into a group video, perfect for business to business, family and friends.
One of the first issues to inhibit video calling is a mixture of bad hair day and makeup. Audio phone calls and text messages allow us to be our scruffy worst and still connect. Whether we use Skype or FaceTime or something else, it pays to be pretty or well primped if you want to do a video call with anyone, otherwise the topic of conversation may just be how bad you look at the moment.
Skype’s new app does multiple video calls the way you would expect it to be done; multiple video streams, camera control options, audio control options, and HD video quality (depending upon device, of course).
It doesn’t take much effort to find someone using their smartphone or tablet for calls or texts, but video calling is the rarity, despite a few billion phones with the capability.
When I connect to older relatives who have FaceTime installed on their iPads often what I see is their head from the mouth down instead of a full frame face. Why? They don’t want me to see what they see on their iPad’s screen because what they see of themselves doesn’t look good to them, yet it’s exactly what I would see if I were there, so what’s the difference?
This syndrome is akin to listening to an audio recording of your own voice. What we hear on the recording is not what we hear through our ears (though it’s exactly what everyone else hears when they listen to us) because we listen to ourselves through our ears and the rest of our head and the sound seems different. It’s not, but perception is reality, and people don’t like listening to their own voice.
Ipso facto, people don’t like looking at themselves when they do a video call and that creates something of a deterrent to making or accepting such calls.
Apple could fix this with avatars; digital versions of ourselves made more handsome, prettier, more striking, or sexy, or whatever it is that an avatar does to make someone’s online presence more acceptable. These digital avatars should look realistic but be fully customizable. As we talk, they talk. As we interact over a video call, the avatar does the same.
An app that creates human-like talking avatars would go a long way toward making video calls a promise fulfilled.