Friday, July 2, 2010

Through the Talking-Glass

Consumer Question: 'what's up with the front-facing camera on newer cell-phones?'

Answer: 'Ugh.'

The launch of the latest batch of superphones like the IPhone4, and the Sprint Evo 4g, suggest that hardware manufacturers as well as service providers see a bright and shiny future for cellular face-to-face video calling. Tech sites are reporting that a slew of next-gen smartphone models that include a FFC (front-facing cam) are indeed headed down the pipes. It seems the FFC is the most-coveted feature for gadgeteers and cell phone geeks to swoon over these days. The more I think about it though, the more I think its a ridiculously dumb idea.

Tech is supposed to be forward thinking, and in my personal opinion, face-to-face calling is about as forward thinking today as it was back in the 60's when sci-fi dreamt it up. I mean, as a gimmick it adds some extra gloss to any full-featured device, but I'm convinced that there is no real advantage to communicating via face-to-face mobile. Do we really need to see each other while we talk and walk around the mall? Do we need another excuse to bury our faces in our phones more than we do now? If anything - cellular technology should afford us the ability to be free to communicate on the go - the video aspect simply bogs down the user's ability to do anything else but talk and stare. The Iphone4 video calling feature 'face-time' is limited to wifi-only areas, so why not just skype? I for one, am happy not seeing the face of the person at the end of the line. Call me what you will, but if I wanted to see your face we'd be having coffee, or a beer.

Don't get me wrong, there is a nice aspect to regular cell-phone video calling: the ability to share moments with friends and loved ones that can't be there for weddings, school plays, and picturesque vacation moments. But we can do that on current smartphones with just the single camera on the back of the device. Most phones today have an outward-facing camera (on the back of the phone) and are perfect for these kinds of calls. Calls where the focus is on the outside world: not your face. Companies like Fring and Qik have been offering mobile apps to allow mobile video calling for the past year, and are great for these kinds of purposes. Face-to-face mobile video calling on the other hand attempts to fill a void that does not exist. The FFC just represents another annoying zit on the face of technology.

The bottom line is this: don't always let the latest and greatest devices fool you into buying a something that has features you won't even use. When you get excited about that slick Iphone or Droid ad on TV, make sure sit down and look at what you are paying for. In my opinion, Face-to-face mobile calling is sure to do one thing: continue to encourage our growth as a self-absorbed society. We are blind to our surroundings, transfixed only on the things that happen to be directly in front of our noses.