The iPhone 4 comes with a new feature called FaceTime, It turns calls between two iphone4 into a video conference. It has the potential to be a catalyst that brings awesome changes to cellphones. Open standards and, more importantly, completely open codecs matter.
The revolutionary change is not simply seeing someones face while you talk to them. Nor is it the ability to show something to someone on the phone, though that is a compelling use. What is potentially revolutionary is that the phone client now contains a VOIP client, and by the end of the year tens of millions of people will carry one.
VOIP is nothing new. It’s already available from vendors like Vonage and Verizon (in limited markets). Businesses are replacing their traditional phones with IP phones. The cellphone carriers, however, have so far resisted the switch to VOIP. Many carriers have blocked VOIP on their networks. Wireless is the future of personal communication but so far its technological progression has been held back.
If all of your phones are VOIP, your number is now easily portable to faster, less congested, wired networks. This would reduce traffic on the cellular networks. People having bad experiences with AT&T should get excited about that.
It’s also possible a single phone number could route to your cellphone and other devices such as a media center. If you think making a video call on a 3.5″ device is awesome, you should try it on a large LCD. FaceTime could be the transitional step to this future, but other software and devices must be compatible. Yes, it’s an open standard, but it includes patented technology that is prohibitively expensive. It does not matter how open the standard is if people can’t or won’t use it.
Steve Job’s proclamation of FaceTime’s openness was an invitation to integrate with it. Otherwise it was just a disingenuous attempt to prove the iPhone is open. I don’t say that to attack Apple, but to challenge them. I don’t know the reasons for their codec choices, no one outside of Apple does. But I do know that patent encumbered technologies will impede progress, and we deserve better.
We should be calling on Apple to go beyond just open standards, to support WebM, or whatever patent free codecs are required. And then we can applaud them for transforming the cellphone industry, again.