The iPhone 4 Killer App: FaceTime

| Editorial

We’ve all been waiting for an inward facing camera and video phone calls. Now we know how much work it took to make the whole process transparent to the user.

Clearly, Steve Jobs loves bringing us the future, right now. According to our team onsite at the keynote, Mr. Jobs was visibly emotional about video calling, referring to the Jetsons and Star Trek (not to mention, Earth: Final Conflict).

Apple’s calling it FaceTime, a name I’m still absorbing. I think Apple wanted to avoid a technical term and put a human touch on it, so FaceTime it is. It won’t work over wirelesss cellular network yet, just Wi-Fi. Mr. Jobs said, [We’ll] “need to work a bit with the cellular providers.” But there is no setup, and Apple has put a lot of work into making it Just Work. How about 18 months. You know, if it took Apple that long, it was a challenge to do right.

FaceTime uses a combination of geeky open source protocols to make it all work: H.264, SIP, AAC, RTP, SRTP, and others, but that’s just for the developers. What we need need to know is that it works from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4 over Wi-Fi (for now.) And you can switch between the two cameras!

FaceTime - WWDC

Apple expects this to “change everything” and I believe it. The focus on social networking and the tremendous amount of personal communication that happens these days via FaceBook and Twitter supports the idea that the timing, if delayed by the technical hurdles, was still perfect. Apple never does anything like this halfway. And, in time, we’ll probably see FaceTIme working over the 3G and 4G networks.

There were lots of other killer features in the iPhone. A glass that’s comparable to sapphire in its hardness. The Retina display with a resolution of 960 x 640. 720p video. The A4 chip. Forty percent more battery power and a that ultra-efficient A4 chip gives us 7 hours of 3G talk time and 10 hours of Wi-Fi browsing. A gyroscope for 6-DOF response. An LED flash for regular photos.

All this is enough to keep the iPhone 4 at the head of the pack in terms of perceived features. But it’s that FaceTime feature that will set the iPhone 4 apart, even as competitors try to duplicate it. Once again, its the blood sweat and tears of Apple engineers who combine the software with the hardware that will set the experience apart. If you want video calling to really feel like it’s from the 22nd century, you’ll probably have to do it with an iPhone 4 for the foreseeable future. Starting June 24th.

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Anyone want to comment that the new gyroscope may help to steady the phone in your hand during a video call?


Will it connect to the millions of existing Skype users out there?


Or maybe it will send a signal into your ear canal if you start losing your balance so you will not fall over and damage the phone.


What’s not clear is where you put the string to wind up the gyroscope and set it spinning in the first instance.  And for how long does it spin?  Will you be able to jail-break the gyroscope and use your own longer string instead of the supplied Apple string?  Inquiring minds wish to know…  grin

More seriously though - six axes?  In general, I thought there were only three: x, y and z.  What gives there?  Is it just the marketing folks looking at the positive and negative halves of each axis and counting them twice?


What’s new abt FaceTime? 3G GSM phones with front facing camera can make video call for years now, no?


Inquiring minds wish to know??


More seriously though - six axes??

I believe the 6 refers to two directions of motion in each axis. It not only can tell you what the orientation is, but how it got there.


Instead of 6 axes they probably mean 6 measurements:
translations along 3 axes, and 3 rotations about those three axes.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I can’t wait for the movie, “FaceTime at Ridgemont High”.


?FaceTime at Ridgemont High?.

pa - dum - PUM!


I don’t know exactly where the number “6” comes from but I like Dave’s explanation.

What I do know is that my iPhone 3GS, even with its GPS and compass, isn’t as good as a Wii remote for steering a mouse cursor around the screen (using Air Mouse Pro, awesome app, BTW). Instead of just turning the phone from left to right the had to map left and right to tilting; so to move the pointer left I have to rotate my phone such that an object on top would fall to the left, rather than just twisting it in the plane it’s already in. Theoretically the compass should help with that but I guess would only work in one of the three planes.

I hope that attempt at an explanation helps clarify what the gyro adds, but it probably just confuses things.

Dean Lewis

Sony and their Playstation 3 has been touting the SixAxis controller for about 4 years (now known as the DualShock 3 with SixAxis). Using the words six and axis/axes together here will resonate with gamers. It mainly refers to the six degrees of freedom afforded by the motion-sensing tech in the device: forward/back, up/down, left/right, pitch, yaw, roll.

More here: forward/back, up/down, left/right, pitch, yaw, roll


I don’t know. I’ve always thought video phone calls and voice control are the two most talked about “futuristic” features that few people are ever going to use on a daily basis. Ninety-nine percent (at least) of calls have no compelling reason to include video—and most of the time I don’t think people want to worry about being seen during a conversation.

Voice-control of computers is another geek dream that is not going to get beyond a niche any time soon, if ever. There’s already enough noise pollution in the world without having everyone talking to their PCs. Offices, classrooms, libraries, coffe shops, homes where other people are trying to talk or watch TV—none of those places is good for voice.

One more thing: Why didn’t they name it some variation of iChat?


I?ve always thought video phone calls and voice control are the two most talked about ?futuristic? features that few people are ever going to use on a daily basis.

Agreed. I may make a few Skype video calls per month. Other than that I don’t want video. As far as voice control it’s never seemed like a good idea to me. I can hit buttons faster than I can dictate, and as far as the inevitable ‘but when you’re in a car’ argument: you shouldn’t be using a cell phone when you’re driving.


Re 6 axes.  X, y and z are referenced to gravity.  Roll, pitch and yaw are body based relative to your velocity vector.  The best way to think of the difference is to assume you are in outer space with no gravity.  Your spacecraft sensors measure roll (rotations about an axis from tail to nose), pitch (rotations about an axis through the wings) and yaw (rotations about the axis perpendicular to the plane of the other two - on an airplane, straight “up” and “down” through the center of mass.  For example, an airplane flying in a stiff crosswind has to yaw, or point the nose of the aircraft into the wind.


Of what value is FaceTime if I’m holding the phone against my ear?


Well, there is a very obvious reason why 3G video calling never took off on all those 3G dual-cam phones. It was just bad.

There may or may not be much interest for video calling. Just like there was speculation how much interest would there be for watching video on an iPod/iPhone (Steve claimed it’s not going to be much of a thing). Yet, once Apple made it feasible, people have begun to do it.

I believe there will be plenty of creative ways people will come up with for video calling, now that it’s there. It is one of those features that pundits always love to pound away at. Apple carefully thought about it, put together all the necessary technology and software behind it and delivered a most elegant and intuitive solution. This will be quite clever; husband and wife buy two iPhones and can simply and intuitively use the feature (right now, whenever they’re within a WiFi base station; eventually, whenever they have 3G signal). I could picture myself using it almost daily, on my grocery shopping missions (“Honey, they have green, yellow and red peppers. Which ones should I get?” “Pick the best looking ones” “Why don’t you tell me which ones look best to you. Here!”).


Honey, they have green, yellow and red peppers. Which ones should I get?? ?Pick the best looking ones? ?Why don?t you tell me which ones look best to you. Here!

Oh I hope you’re being facetious.
Whenever I see people doing that in the store I have an urge to walk up, give them a dope slap and say “You’re a grownup, make a GD decision!”


Of what value is FaceTime if I?m holding the phone against my ear?

Well, it might be handy if you’re talking to your otolaryngologist...
Well ... I thought it was obvious! ? grin



Oh, I’m most certainly serious! I am not much of a fan of grocery shopping. I do it because my wife often has more important things to do at home (with kids, etc). Besides, I can get to the store and back faster than her (I bike around Manhattan; she doesn’t). My wife is extremely particular about her produce. Rather than bringing home stuff that doesn’t meet her extremely strict standards, I call and obtain clearance. Much easier later on than debating over somewhat listless radicchio…


Re 6 axes.? X, y and z are referenced to gravity.? Roll, pitch and yaw are body based relative to your velocity vector…

Thanks Ron (and the others too) for clarifying this.  I can see the sense in it now.


“Well, there is a very obvious reason why 3G video calling never took off on all those 3G dual-cam phones. It was just bad.”

I think vasic is spot-on about FaceTime’s successfulness. 

It all depends on how well the videophone works - IMO it will be a huge worldwide killer-gadget if it is very well done, but if not, FaceTime will suffer the same fate as all its predecessor videophone gadgets.  If it is very well done, people will discover that they “need” it.


Of what value is FaceTime if I?m holding the phone against my ear?

You don’t have to go in for an office visit to have an examination by your ENT specialist grin


video chat

Huge benefit to the deaf - signed video chat. Spectacular


If only Earth: Final Conflict was popular enough for somebody to sell a global-inspired case for the new iPhone. I’m definitely going to have an MCI logo on mine.


video chat
Huge benefit to the deaf - signed video chat. Spectacular

I have a couple of deaf relatives and I never thought of that.


As cool as video chat is, to me, it’s not the “Killer App” mentioned in the talk. That would be the combination of HD video, video editing and iMovie for iPhone. I expect that these will get a LOT more use than video chat, especially once the novelty of video chat wears off. (The limitation of iPhone 4 to iPHone 4 cuts the usefulness down a lot, as well.) Parents will be able to shoot, edit, and share videos of their kids with grandparents—in minutes. (“You gotta see this shot Jennifer just made in her basketball game.”) Teens will go bonkers with it. Even businesses can use it. (“I’ll send you a video showing how to fix that.”) The advantages over video chat are obvious: permanent vs transitory; after-the-fact vs real-time; edited vs raw; doesn’t require the viewer to have an iPhone 4; easily shared with many people.

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