Editorial: Why don't we like video calls?

The title of this article came to me while I was browsing Wikipedia, a situation which I hope somebody can relate to where an article on a certain topic brings you eventually to something totally unrelated, with no relevance whatsoever to the original piece but still fascinating nonetheless. The need to click through endlessly to find out worthless facts is fascinating in itself, but ironically I've digressed.

Where did it all go wrong for the pioneers of this fine technology? It's not like we never wanted it; indeed, many designs of the house-of-the-future famously incorporated some sort of video phone somewhere along the way, and advances in technology made video calling inevitable. If this was such a bad idea, why didn't somebody turn around and say "Hold on, this is stupid, people don't want this"?

The effort to upgrade mobile phone networks to the third-generation, spearheaded by Hutchison 3G (known to most as 3), seemed to have been motivated by video calls. The message was clear: People want this and it is going to be huge. As most of you are aware, 3G technology is alive and well, employed by millions, yet the driving force behind the upgrade seems to have faded away. Service providers rarely (if ever) provide video calling minutes as part of their contracts, and supposedly "cutting edge" phones such as the iPhone make no reference to this feature whatsoever. Clearly, demand has faded. At least, it has in this area of technology.

While mobile video calling seems to be gasping for its last breath, Voice over IP services such as Skype have shown little sign of a lack of interest in video calls. In fact, hardcore Skype users created a plugin for webcam support before the official developers had implemented this for themselves. Pidgin users rant on forums about a lack of webcam support, and one of Microsoft's Mac Messenger's biggest criticisms is its lack of webcam support. A lack of daylight and social interaction could well be the source of all this pent-up rage around these programs' shortcomings, but the answer is most likely that consumers do care about video calling. Something doesn't add up here.

I'm sure the more easily frustrated among you are screaming at your monitors about how I've neglected the point about how not everybody owns a video phone, or that VoIP is free and mobile video calls are not. The first point is easy to rebut: Text messaging was in a similar position once upon a time, and nowadays you'd be seen as a "n00b" if "u cdnt ndrstnd ths". The second point is more interesting. Talking to people through a home phone is cheaper than on a mobile call, in most cases, and actually seeing the person and speaking face-to-face is 100% gratis. Also, the advantage of carrying around a sleek compact video-enabled mobile phone heavily outweighs the free aspect of carrying around a chunky laptop, a 3G dongle, and some hope that the person you want to speak to is online. This isn't to say that VoIP's significance should be ignored as an inconvenient gimmick, but the fact that VoIP is free does seem to come closer to the issue.

As part of an incentive to get people video calling, in its early days providers would offer a handful of free video calling minutes. Trouble was actually knowing someone who had a video phone as well that you could call. But the other thing was that there's not much more information you can get from a video call than you can from a standard call. Facial expressions are almost lost in the grainy low-resolutions images on the screen (unless your caller is fantastically expressive), emotions can be detected in voice anyway (here's a tip: watching people cry is not fun), the caller may not be looking their best (not as big of an issue in a voice call), and also (and possibly most importantly) it's hard to do anything else at the same time.

Sad but true, it looks like our hectic lifestyles are the reason we don't want to embrace video calling, and all the speeches made by eccentric men on how we will eventually communicate via hologram may well stay dreams, all because we don't care much.

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Well, to start out with, why does someone want to see whomever they're talking to? Seriously... If you want to see or be seen, it's not about the conversation or any info or data any longer -- it stops being about what most people use their phones for. Seeing whomever you're talking to also destroys your ability to be rude... There's no required immediacy in responding to a text -- the sender has no idea if you even know your phone went off, let alone if they're in a position to respond. Neither does a caller know if you're looking at their caller ID, or if your cell lost it's signal. OTOH you can't be looking someone in the eye, and walk away mid-sentence as they're asking you something.

hmm, ive owned like 3 video capable phones over the last 4 years, not once have i had the chance to video call...

one thing that has bothered me abit when im using webcams was like, your either looking at the person or your looking at the camera...

i think that on the phone its much worse, its grainy + lousy reception + shaky camera + cant hear anything theyre saying ....
like there are times and places where video calls would work quite well, and you would look quite good doing it, but most of the time you would be too busy to use it properly

It might sound cool to see who you are talking with, but then you realize he would be seeing you as well.

Face it: for 99% of the phone calls we make we would rather prefer not being seen (or at the very least we are perfectly OK with that), and for the other 1% it just isn't worth the hassle nor the higher price.

I believe video calls is very very popular anywhere but in the US. Americans for some reason don't really prefer them.

Personally i don't like making video calls, i have 50 video minuets on my 3 mobile contract and i've prob ever only used 5 period!

For me it's a question of attentiveness, when on the phone to someone it's far easier to pretend to be interested if it's only over audio but factor in video and it becomes more like a face to face conversation, a lot more work.

Plus i'm a man, when i'm on the phone i have to pick my nose and re-arrange my gentleman vegetables, how easy would it be to forget your being watched? As well as the amount of lies the average human produces when he's on the phone, the amount of times i've hung out of bedroom window shouting down my phone "yeah i've left but the traffics horrendous..." imagine trying to do that with a video phone!

Mobile video calling is available in Japan, has been for years now. I do not see the need for it as watching someone walking and talking isn't that interesting to watch if you're out living your life. Indeed the fact that mobile video calling has such a high cost to it I would think the only real need for it would be for executives who want to ditch the standard speakerphone experience. Outside of that webcams pwn with low cost/free video calling services. Indeed this is one of the reasons why many got an MSN ID in the first place. Sitting at home at your desk or sofa and being able to channel The Jetsons was and is thrilling for some. I'm sure media outlets will start to say that pervasive webcam availability and use has led to a big spike in people who are voyeurs/exhibitionists. Every retail box for video conferencing software you see always has a dad on a business trip watching his kid hug a teddy bear. Kind of like marketing SUV's going off road. Sure that exact situation does sometimes happen but more often than not something else happens. ;-)

Main reason : COST.
It's common in computers because it's free. In mobile phones it's relatively expensive for something that's not necessary. If they make it more economical perhaps more people will use it.

But this is the thing, people still don't use it much even if they have inclusive video calling minutes.

Webcamming online works because your camera is fixed so your hands can focus on other things, and your eyes can easily go between the call window and whatever else you care to be doing, allowing you to--tadaa--multitask during the video call.

Camming with a cell phone does not offer this freedom to multitask. You have to hold the phone and look at the phone, meaning walking around won't work. It's not exactly car friendly and would last maybe a week before an accident results in it being declared illegal, handsfree/mounted or not.

None of this explains why NCIS is so bloody determined to showcase video calls in every single episode.

Actually, the Ojo Phones they use seem quite useful. I don't ever recall seeing an episode where someone used in on a cellphone, but as for having a stationary unit designed for video calls, then it seems quite nice.

If you have a stationary unit designed for video calls with a camera that can take relatively clear, crisp imagery, and a good mic, then it's easy to communicate quickly without having to text out the whole conversation, and you can also show pictures or convey the meaning of what you're doing with facial expressions, gestures, and whatnot.

But on a mobile phone? Too expensive and just not that convenient.

Frankly, I think your complaint about using it in a car seems rather petty, as not everybody uses or has a car.

I'm willing to bet this same discussion and conclusions happened at Apple HQ, and is exactly why the iPhone still doesn't have a front-facing camera.

Also, a factor you've missed: it's horribly expensive.

For me personally, video calling on a mobile is inconvenient, costly (well here in Australia it is) and as others have said you look like an idiot :P On the computer well for me it's bandwidth, because of the high prices of broadband and limited availablity of high speed internet in my area, I can't get a fast enough connection to get a steady stream from the camera so I'm always in slow motion/choppy and it drops out randomly. Well that is my 2 cents.

Few reasons:
- outdoors:
a) if you're walking, you wont stop to make a call. noisy street = you need to yell at the thing, and probably won't be able to understand what they're telling you
b) if you're seated at a public transport place, unless you're using headphones u wont want people listening to what you're being told
- indoors:
a) if it's a noisy place, the speakerphone thin will be pointless
b) if it's not a noisy place, the privacy thing again
c) if it's both private AND quiet, it's either your house, or the office. and u will most likely have a computer with a webcam somewhere near you

And text messaging was seen as dumb in the US, while every other carrier in europe and asia were filling their pockets with money solely on SMS.

Quality article - I agree 100% on your views with this, its been bugging me for a long while and all of those pieces fit the puzzle.

I for one cant be bothered to walk down the road holding a phone in front me calling up a mate. Like you said, people cant be bothered to change, but thats because there is nothing much wrong with the current way of doing things. Its worked so far.

Really? I digressed from the original point, which is ironic as I digressed to discussing how easy it is to digress on Wikipedia.

Well this makes up for the opera "leaked" images topic lmfao

But seriously, I was truly hoping the new NEW iPhone would have have a camera on the front not only to make taking pictures of yourself easier but I know for a fact that if apple had put one in and they themselves didn't add video chat/conf/call another developer would have.

Anyone remember the TV show "Gene Roddenberry's Earth"? I love those little communicators and they were a great example of tech that is very nearly here today including the pull out video screens, and they also showed that the video part was not mandatory you could just use it for voice.

speaking of Gene, remember how the original startreck communicator looked a lot like todays flip phones, and smart-phones have become like the tricorder from TNG (iPhone OS 3.0 medical attachments), i honestly think those comunicators from EARTH were spot on and we will see them in the future.

you know, this is call a feature. You could be able to receive the video but disable sending video (thus you can do all those thing). You can always turn the phone so the receiver doesn't see you picking your nose, etc.

It's like in I'm. If someone want to do a video chat, I can accept but deny sending my webcam, even sound. Do the samething with your phone and voila, you cleared all those problem you have

You guys are missing the bigger reasons. You can't talk to someone on a video call if you're naked, just out of the shower, look hungover as f--- when talking to your boss (as you call in "sick), and nor can you do other embarrassing things like use the bathroom, pick your nose, or even multitask properly because you're too busy looking at someone.

Overall, it's an inconvenience. Even for teenage girls who haven't had the hour preparation time needed before making a video call with her boy friend or a boy she has a crush on.

+100 This is the REAL reason video phones/chatting have not caught on.

After all, with these crappy cameras, and just plain reality based lighting, NONE of us look at good on a video phone as the people we see on TV, etc. which causes the already naturally insecure to shy away from the technology.

When I'm having a phone conversation I'm usually doing something else in between.. like walking to some appointment, driving... (ups :P) or doing stuff on the computer...

Reason why Video calling on mobile phone didn't take of is because to make that call you had to look at the phone and speak loudly.

Therefore look like a total ass and people could here you.

Video calls would be use at home, but why bother if you can flick on your laptop and IM someone with a decent camera and the abilty to relax and chat with out others over hearing your conversation?

It's not only about caring, it's about convenience

A video chat needs something important... a camera. When people are on the go, are they really going to point some device at themselves? Quite clearly, no. Also, the person on the other end would have to be looking at that small little screen while doing whatever else they are doing. Again, not convenient.

At home, or with a laptop, generally you have a webcam in a fixed position. Whether that's at your home desk, or integrated with the laptop. Thus, it's not only available, but convenient to use. Hence why it is booming there, and not in the cellphone world

On another thought, I think a large problem was that up until a year ago, laptops didnt come standard with webcams. They were a $25 "upgrade" which most people wouldnt be able to justify

For the 35 and under crowd it's very much a reality and you know who you are. Brandon just had the nerve to say it out loud. ;-)

DATmafia said,
For the 35 and under crowd it's very much a reality and you know who you are. Brandon just had the nerve to say it out loud. ;-)

damn i must be missing out...