Why The iPhone’s "FaceTime" Movie Calling Will Succeed Where Others Have Failed
After Apple unveiled its fresh iPhone four and "FaceTime" movie calling feature yesterday, the usual whines from the peanut gallery were that Apple was copying a feature everyone else has shipped for years. You could make a movie call on a Nokia phone when Clinton was still in office! Or something like that.
Unnecessary to say, despite years of availability, mobile movie calling is not a mainstream activity yet.
So why will Apple’s "FaceTime" do better?
Very first and foremost, because it will eventually be available on a device that will achieve sufficient saturation among groups. Movie calling is a social function and therefore there is a network effect in play. If not enough people have the capacity to make movie calls, then even the people with phones that support movie calls are out of luck.
But think about all the peer groups — like mine — with iPhone invasion above 75%. That sort of saturation generally doesn’t exist for other phones. As those groups upgrade to the fresh iPhone Four, movie calling will be a reality for them. (And the requirement that both parties have iPhone 4s and not old iPhones or Macs or iPads could help Apple convert a few more customers.)
2nd, because over wifi, FaceTime calls will look and sound good enough that they’re worth making.
Apple’s requirement that FaceTime calls are only over wifi is no doubt in some part to reassure carriers — FaceTime won’t saturate their data networks with movie calls, and won’t at the same time disrupt their core business selling voice subscriptions.
But because FaceTime calls are over wifi, there should be sufficient bandwidth to make them actually look and sound good. (Versus over 3G, when they’d most likely be choppy and drop out all the time.) So people might actually love them and keep using them.
Third, because Apple most likely made the calling and setup procedures much lighter than any other phone maker.
We don’t know this for sure, because like you, we’ve never wielded a phone that could make movie calls. But our practice with Apple software is that it is ordinary and "just works." We can’t say that about most other mobile companies.
It’ll obviously be a while before movie calling substitutes a significant portion of voice calling and text messaging. But because of the reasons cited, we anticipate that FaceTime won’t be a finish flop.