A large number of smartphone enthusiasts seem to be relatively sour at the announcement of any smartphone lacking a front facing camera. This response is certainly understandable, as the front facing camera is another feature on a long list of capabilities, and a feature with no particularly solid reason for not including it in a modern smartphone. That being said, the front facing camera currently seems to stand rather low on the list of system critical features consumers demand. With the primary focus of this secondary camera aimed at video calling and the explosion of recent smartphones in the US sporting a second lens, one would think there would be a corresponding eruption in the usage of mobile video services. This explosion hasn’t happened, for just as it did in 2007, the luster of video calling dulls rapidly once users recall the glaring complications.
While the needed bandwidth for video calling made its way to cellular networks in 2001, it wasn’t until 2003 when the first video call capable phone, Sony Ericsson Z1010, made its mobile audiovisual connection at a whopping 176×144. The release was a relatively quiet one, because while the technology was appreciated the required compatibility, widespread 3G coverage and adoptive enthusiasm were nonexistent. Video calling did however finally take off in 2005 when this technology hit Japanese carriers. With Japanese carriers pushing for inter-device and carrier compatibility, the public finally adopted this feature into every day usage. However this extensive adoption was limited solely to Japan, as Chinese and European user acceptance dropped like a heavy rock into a lake. Across the pond, users in the United States stood clear of mobile video calling, save for a few minor blips and imports, until the HTC EVO 4G launch in 2010. Plagued by the same issues seen in 2003, compatibility and network coverage, using video calling was anything but simple. Apple made a solid shove at simplification with the iPhone 4, using FaceTime, heavy marketing, and deep OS integration. Apple’s attempt met with general success at nearly 60% of users attempting a video call, but the numbers faded rapidly with FaceTime being limited to Wi-Fi.
Regardless of the initial success of video calling, in the US, with the launch of the EVO 4G and iPhone 4, only a small percentage of users continued using their video calling capabilities on a regular basis. Just like those who bought early video call capable phones realized, you are required to find a compatible channel on both ends, often limited by location, and immediately throw privacy out the window.
Despite inter-platform compatibility at an all-time high, extending between mobile operating systems and even to webcam enabled personal computers, along with the swelling 3G/4G coverage, usage of video calling is seemingly sliding to the end of yet another arc of popularity. In the end however, regardless of how infrequently a feature is used, it is always appreciated to have it available. While I expect to see yet another blip on the adoption charts, I don’t personally believe video calling will receive widespread usage using the current or projected configurations. Despite this predicament, front facing cameras, for the most part, are here to stay and we should expect to see them on most future handsets. All that being said, don’t be too surprised if manufactures remove front facing cameras in select devices to bring back the rear phone reflector for portrait shots.
What about you? How often do you use the video calling features of your Smartphone? Would you refrain from purchasing a new phone just because it lacks the camera? Share your thoughts with a comment.