The iPhone 4 Killer App: FaceTime

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.