iPhone Facetime – Um didn’t we all decide we didn’t want this about 5 years ago?

So the iPhone 4’s new film for their new product “Face time” is at number two in the Viral Chart at the moment.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that video calling was a technology that consumers thought they liked the idea of about 7 years ago when 3G networks were first coming out and every phone had a camera on the front, but then everyone realised that it just wasn’t something that they wanted to actually do. Most people like the fact that you can’t see them when they are on the phone. I mean what would everyone on the train talk about if loudly shouting “I’m on the train to Nuneaton” was rendered superfluous? Also a morning call to your boss to call in sick would require you to actually look ill as well as sounding it and “I’m just leaving the office now” whilst visibly sitting in the pub would probably cause problems with the wife.

This technology has been available for many people for a long while now, but the fact that mobile phone manufacturers stopped putting cameras on the front of their phones about 2 years ago shows that it just wasn’t taking off.

Now I can imagine a number of scenarios where you might want to be able to see the person you are talking to – a number of which are shown in the Apple ad – showing off a new born baby to distant family, signlanguage conversations, significant life events – but nearly all of those situations could be covered by using a webcam and a laptop (which consumers are already using.) Now you might say “Well what if you want to take the conversation outside? – you can’t do that with a laptop and a webcam” Well to those people I point you to the tiny small print at the end of the ad: “Facetime requires iPhone 4 and wifi FOR BOTH CALLER AND RECIPIENT”

Think about that

1) Both parties have to have an iPhone 4 – so both parties have to be so excited by the new technology that they have spent over £500 and queued up for the privilege. In the US that’s about 2 million people so far in the UK a few hundred thousand – about 0.75% of the population. So your pool of prospective facetime participators is going to be pretty small.

2) Both parties have to have wi-fi access at the time of the call – so that means most likely they have to be at home, at work, in a hotel room or in a coffee shop. That 0.75% of people you can call just got even smaller. (Also they are all places where you are quite likely to have a laptop with a webcam.)

I just don’t understand why Apple have spent a considerable amount of their marketing budget making a 2 minute video to promote a feature which few people want and even fewer people would actually be able to use. Is it possible that they are struggling to justify to existing consumers that it is worth spending £500 for what is essentially an evolutionary upgrade and so are focusing on the one tangible thing they can point to that is actually new – (even though all other phone manufacturers were adding it to their phones 5 years ago..)

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