Mobile Video Calling? Meh.

Video calling  on services like skype has been very popular but despite having been available for almost as long mobile video calling has flopped in every country it’s been launched in.

Mobile video calling is in the news at the moment because of facetime on the iPhone and iPod Touch but as soon as the fanboys get over the excitement I suspect that mobile video calls will drift out of the spotlight once more.

So why, given that skype has been such a success, has mobile video calling flopped?

Some speculate that it’s because image quality is usually poor and that low and unreliable bandwidth on mobile data networks is to blame, this surely doesn’t help but it’s not the problem. Neither is the cost, video calling can be pricey but new apps mean that callers can utilise their inclusive data allowance at no extra cost.

The problem is that most people just don’t want it. Sure, the first time you get a phone with video calling you might use it to wave inanely at your mum or to drunkenly drop your trousers at your friend who decided to stay home but in terms actually being useful video calling just doesn’t do it for the majority of users.

This kind of makes sense on an intuitive level; think about text messages. The first mobile phones only made voice calls, but text messaging became incredibly popular despite limiting you to a short message and not allowing you to hear the other person’s voice. You only have to look at the minutes to text ratios of most popular mobile phone tariffs to see that most people text more than they call. People opted for a medium that provided less sensory information not more so why would they shift entirely the other way?

There are practical issues with mobile video calls, I can talk on the phone while I walk down the street and (usually) not walk in to every lampost, old lady and cyclist in my path, but walking down the street whilst staring at a fuzzy image of another person and shouting to be heard not only makes you look a bit of a plonker but will more than likely end up with you walking in to something.

Perhaps video calling is a step too far in terms of looking stupid, talking on a phone or texting in public is ok, but certain other mobile phone usage like talking on handsfree when not in a car or – my personal favorite – wearing a bluetooth ear piece with flashing blue LED at all times, make you look ridiculous.

Ok, so video calls while out and about don’t seem all that usefull, but what about from home or the office? Well yes, they would appear to be more practical use for video calls from static locations but then why would you choose to use a tiny screen over a slow network when you can use skype or the like on your PC or laptop?

If mobile phone manufacturers – who we assume do their market research – thought video calling was where it’s at then every top end smartphone would have a front facing camera for that very purpose. They don’t.  Some do, including the iPhone 4 and Samsung galaxy S, but the SE Xperia range, the HTC Desire and both of Blackberry’s current flagships don’t so clearly it’s not seen as a must have feature by mobile phone manufactures.

Mobile video calling is a gimmick, something you get all excited about and show your friends then get bored with and forget about, just like the Nintendo Wii  that’s gathering dust behind a pile of PS3 or Xbox 360 games.

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