Is on-the-go mobile video conferencing ready for prime time? It's getting there. Here are five developments that may finally make video calling on your smartphone a reality.
- Mobile bandwidth gets real. Mobile video calling today mostly only works over Wi-Fi, which isn't really mobile calling at all. Next-generation 4G networks will proliferate in 2011, giving video users the bandwidth they need to at last do video on the move.
- Skype gets serious. Today, 40 percent of Skype calls are video--and more of them will initiate from mobile phones now that Skype added video calling to its iPhone client, did a deal with Verizon to deliver video over the operator's 4G LTE network by mid-year and acquired mobile video pioneer Qik to give users additional ways to communicate via video (such as live video broadcasting).
- Tablets. It's no coincidence that most tablets have rear- and front-facing cameras. Video calling could be a big app for these larger devices, which more frequently than their smartphone brethren will run on higher-bandwidth Wi-Fi or 4G networks. Beyond the iPad, the more business-focused Android-based Motorola Xoom, Cisco Cius and BlackBerry PlayBook tablets all emphasize video calling among their features.
- More frames means better video. It's a simple equation: fewer frames, choppier video. But smoother mobile video will increasingly be the norm as higher bandwidth and more powerful processors allow for more frames per second. Apple FaceTime natively supports 15 frames per second, a nod to today's mobile bandwidth limits. An iPhone jailbreak modification can get it to 30 frames, though, providing a hint of what's possible.
- Video calling to anyone. When's the last time you worried about compatibility when making a voice call? For most video calling, however, users must have the same software, and in the case of Apple's FaceTime, the same hardware on each end of the line. This will change in 2011 as new offerings, such as Damaka's Amadeo and Vidyo's VidyoRouter--the latter of which has been shown to handle a multiparty video call between an iPhone, an iPad, a MacBook, a Samsung Galaxy tablet, a PC laptop and a Google Android device--begin to address interoperability issues.
Thumbs on the Wheel
The Roadster's speech-to-text capability puts mobile entrepreneurs on the road to better safety
The mobile industry is finally taking text-free driving seriously. The nationwide trend toward stiff fines for driving while texting or otherwise using a mobile keyboard has spurred a fresh round of innovation among mobile gadget makers. Major mobile peripheral companies are coming to market with sophisticated in-car wireless speakers and speech-to-text devices that enable a reasonable hands-free experience for drivers.
Our favorite right now is the Motorola Roadster ($100). Besides being well constructed, the Roadster does a decent job of suppressing background noise and capturing speech in a way that a smartphone can understand.
The Roadster can be paired with any Bluetooth-enabled mobile device and allows for voice-activated control of calling, texting and other features. Although plenty of trial and error awaits, for small-business types who can't afford to spend hours behind the wheel disconnected from the office, the Roadster is a sleeper of a productivity tool that not only keeps you on right side of the law, but also keeps you safe.