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It was supposed to be the next big thing but it seems to have fizzled out like MMS. It failed in many 3G-enabled countries that deployed it. Gartner’s consumer mobile hype cycle (July 2007) claims that wireless video calling has failed to create any excitement in the mobile industry, with no demand from either consumers or business users.
Nokia’s VP feels video calling was not successful because it turns you ugly
it’s because the angle at which the front-facing cams are held gives callers a view of your face that “isn’t very flattering.” He mentioned that most webcams are typically placed just above the user’s line of sight, which gives a more pleasing view of the face; obviously, that’s not something you can practically do with your phone most of the time
The first thing that came across my mind was Privacy. You would have to use the speakerphone to do video calls (unless you’re on BT headset or hands-free, which is not true for an overwhelming majority of people) and this compromises privacy in a big way…no one wants people nearby snooping in on their conversations.
I felt there has to be much more to it than just these two reasons, so I asked this question to LinkedIn and IXDA communities to get a feel for why video calls failed from Business and User Experience perspectives, and I received several great responses. I have summarized the primary reasons below.
- Handset Availability (in techtalk Device Penetration)
- Call Quality (in techtalk Quality of Service)
- Perceived as too costly
- Don’t want the other person to see how I look
- Can’t do anything else while on Video Call
- Video doesn’t add much to the conversation
3G handset penetration is still low. How do you know if the other party has the service configured? [Marketing Manager at South East Asia at Ericsson]
Perhaps the number of devices supporting video telephony. At least I don’t know anyone who to video call… [Product Marketing Manager – New Business at Universal Electronics]
Video needs to constantly buffer, video breaks up, resolution is low, slow connection, etc. [Owner, http://www.idesignsgroup.com]
Video call demands for much greater bandwidth with high sensitivity to latency and frame size. For the longest time, the available video codecs are just not efficient enough on its compression to effect full frame rate video call [Principal at CSC]
Video Calls are bandwidth heavy, and unreliable in terms of quality. Sometimes it’s good other times choppy etc. It has to work like TV all the time from any location. Sort of how audio phoning works [Principal Interaction Designer at Oracle USA]
Perceived as too costly
When it was launch the price was 2 or 3 times more expensive than a voice call. Today in most of the countries it’s the same but there is a perception that it’s still expensive [Marketing Manager at South East Asia at Ericsson]
Price is a barrier or perhaps customers still perceive it as luxury service [Projects Specialist at Telenor Mobile]
I think the reasons are psychological rather than anything to do with the cost. People don’t want their privacy to be invaded. Nobody wants to talk on a loud speaker in public. [Sr. RF Consultant]
Do you want to see your boss face , when you just wake up? Probably not. [Marketing Manager at South East Asia at Ericsson]
When you’ve got anything worth displaying in the video, it’s also often too loud and/or impolite to speak through a loudspeaker. Everybody else is there too. Imagine a shop, an office, or a museum. [Senior Interaction Designer, iXDesign]
Don’t want the other person to see how I look
A few other perceptions besides what Nokia’s VP feels:
Ordinary people on a video phone don’t look like people on video should look. We’re all used to seeing people on television who are in make up, well lighted, and in carefully chosen clothing. On a video phone, the presentation of an individual is underwhelming [Technical writer and editor]
Most video calls are designed to extend the concept of a phone call to include video representations of the speakers. As a potential user, I have to ask myself two questions:
1. How do I look?
2. What will the other party learn from seeing me and what will I learn from seeing the other party?
In most cases, the answers aren’t reassuring. I look like a grizzled old coot with a scowl (I’m squinting at the screen). The other party will probably look a lot worse than they would in person. That won’t help either one of us and neither of us will go very far out of our way to use it. [Associate Professor at Auburn University and Owner, interactive Point of View]
If you saw my hair right now, you’d have your answer!
I’m only joking with you just a little — there’s actually quite a bit of truth in my answer.
It really is about image. If you can’t project a Hollywood standard in a video call (and most cannot) — it’s probably a good idea to stick to audio calls. [Writer, Covering the Internet Marketing & Presentation Beats]
You don’t want the other person to see how bored you look by what’s being said or the person you’re having an affair with in the background. [Owner, Digital TX Ltd and IPTV/VoD Consultant]
When you’re in a place that you chose for privacy to make the call, you’ll look creepy in the video. Just look at all the self-made webcam videos in Youtube and you know what I mean [Senior Interaction Designer, iXDesign]
It’s not convenient to setup video calls typically (too complicated to setup, call connection takes too long, etc.) Need to have the camera constantly track your face (who wants to constantly hold a device looking at their face and always adjust to keep it there) [Owner, http://www.idesignsgroup.com]
It’s too much hassle to sit in the right place, have the right lighting etc. to make it worthwhile. I remember when I first used webcams (low res, choppy etc.) the excitement of seeing someone from another part of the world was quickly overcome by constantly wanting to ‘place’ them such that I could be ‘eye to eye’ with them, and be able to see their face properly etc. Typically, lights behind the person that work fine as local ambient light are terrible for the person on the other end of the call – all they see is a silhouette [Principal Interaction Designer at Oracle USA]
Can’t do anything else while on a video call
For video calling you need to have your phone in front of you, which makes other movements and task much less convenient [Managing Director at econet.hu Group’s eMusic]
One of the benefits of the phone is that you can multitask…you don’t have to actually pay attention to the conversation (My god, if my mother had a video phone, I’d be dead). [User Experience Consulting & Project Management]
Audio calls, SMS, voicemail, MMS, all can be done while doing something else, either synchronously or asynchronously.
The problem with virtual or simulated experience compared to other extensions of dialogue modes that are more abstract is that it’s just better doing the real thing. Abstracted communication forms can be highly efficient, they save time, or allow for deeper time when they enter into polychronic modes (a group of friends texting one night as they meet up here or there, or any group social event whether in the real world or some extension of it or a combination of the two like people attending SXSW texting and twittering.)
The asynchronous forms don’t really tax our sense of being that much (obsessive compulsions aside, a problem in any case), you can still very much be focused and present in your being while carrying on a SMS or Twitter exchange with people over time. So it seems to me, that “video calls” will only ever be a fraction of the usage say synchronous audio phone calls [Social Media Blogger]
Video doesn’t add much to the conversation
Simply seeing the other person on the other end of the line adds very little to the communication. [Director of User Experience at Qik]
In most cases, voice is more than adequate. What real benefit does adding video have to a conversation? You can look at how they interact with you and others, you can recognize cues that you would normally not when just using voice or text, etc…. I don’t think there has been a substantial business case to warrant this in the consumer space [Manager, Information Architecture and Content Management – Trapeze Group]
It’s still remote, and not in person. Pretty much anything you can do with video calls you can do over the phone….so what’s the advantage for all this cost and complexity?
There’s definitely value in it for some uses… but enough to go mainstream… not really. Most people don’t have a need. Even if the technology improved… that wouldn’t create a need. [Web Developer @ CBS Interactive]
It seems like another example where technology has been put before user needs.
The main problem is understanding user behavior and how people use technology. Nobody is taking in consideration what consumers want and the way they behave. This is a typical case were the Telecom industry had put technology before the consumer understanding [Marketing Manager at South East Asia at Ericsson]
Most of the resistance is due to a combination of psychology and a subtle, individual cost-benefit analysis [Associate Professor at Auburn University and Owner, interactive Point of View]
Does this mean it’s the end of the line for video calling…. certainly not…. from the responses I received, turns out there are a few things it’s got going for it. I’ll be covering those in the post FOR video calling.