Friday, October 20, 2006

Mobile Video Calling Will be Big Business Indeed!

In his Tuesday interesting post titled "Why 3G Video Calls are Useless," Luca Filigheddu responded to an earlier "Wow" post by Jeff Pulver about mobile video calling and raised doubt as to the real world value of video calling in the mobile world. Luca essentially concluded that mobile video calling was "cool" conceptually, but he didn't see real world user needs being solved (the "value-added services" resulting from mobile video calling). Luca invited readers to send comments and feedback from those of us in the US and elsewhere where 3G is not yet readily available. Hence, this post ...

Luca, of course, raises several valid points and current negatives about the mobile video calling experience in 3G countries ... as such services exist today (i.e., in their very early stages).

With full respect of course -- my son's name also is Luca and so we have that shared bond as well as a deep supply of Italian in our family! -- I strongly disagree that mobile video calling ultimately is useless and solves no special user needs. In fact, I have no doubt that mobile video calling -- when done right and when marketed in a compelling fashion -- will be embraced both by consumers and the SMB/enterprise market and will be very big business indeed. In fact, I believe the mobile opportunity is tremendous precisely because unique consumer/business needs are solved by mobile live video.

Think of just some of the potential unique problems solved by mobile video "calling":

(1) Mobile video calling adds much needed flexibility in the video calling experience, freeing up users from the desktop; we already see that laptop computers are, in fact, "mobile" (portable) and the smaller form factors will only increase overall utility and flexibility (while grandparents seeing grandkids certainly is a compelling use case for video calling, it is just one compelling use case out of a myriad of others that we see growing each day and this very fast growing video communications market);

(2) Mobile video calling -- when done right (again, better quality and much improved ease of use) -- is fun as well as being flexible and giving the user more "freedom"; when it works right, I have little doubt that the kids (as well as others) will embrace it. Mobile live video-enabled social networking anyone?

(3) Mobile video calling adds a compelling new "see what I'm seeing" functionality (in addition to one-to-one video calling) which has broad and compelling potential and utility both for consumers and the SMB/enterprise market. For consumers, I see both exotic and mundane applications of this type of usage. As examples, I am traveling to meet with Luca in Italy and I call my wife to not only "meet" Luca via live video, but also to show her that we are sharing a fine bottle of wine in our favorite Piazza in Roma. But the less exotic (dare I say, "mundane"?) consumer uses are even more compelling to me. Imagine shopping at the grocery store and not being sure of a particular product to buy. Rather than bring home the wrong one (which I frequently do) or try to describe it to my wife as I meander around the store's aisles, how about simply video calling her from my mobile phone and "showing" her the choices on the shelf and particular items (thereby confirming, much more efficiently than via simple verbal descriptions, whether I have selected the "right" product).

And, think of the SMB user -- let's say, a real estate agent -- he or she could better serve his or her clients by conducting a live video "tour" of a property with his or her mobile device (so that the client need not visit every property). Again, the visual element gives power that cannot -- even remotely -- be matched by audio only calling alone (and therefore gives the real estate agent an exciting new tool in his or her arsenal).

Mobile video-enabled commerce is another exciting new possibility in this "see what I'm seeing" bucket of potential uses (I can show folks interested in my used car via a mobile video call precisely what the exterior and interior of my car looks like before they drive out to visit me and close the deal);

(4) As an extension of the "see what I'm seeing" potential, mobile video calling gives rise to the citizen journalist, among other things. Just a couple weeks ago, mobile devices were used by news organizations to report breaking news and information about the small plane that crashed into a New York City buildiing. Live video "calling" from a mobile device, of course, can revolutionize newsgathering and other kinds of traditional media reporting in exciting new ways (including empowering previously passive viewers to become active participants). I blogged about some of these possibilities in one of my recent posts.

At the end of the day, current implementations of mobile live video "calling," as pointed out by Luca and others, still lack in terms of quality and ease of use. And, I doubt they have been marketed particularly effectively as well. But, I don't believe we can judge the potential of this uniquely compelling market opportunity -- both for consumers and businesses -- until these preliminary usability hurdles are solved and until proper visibility is achieved.

I tried to list some potentially compelling use cases above for mobile video communications (and this list is certainly not intended to be exhaustive). But, in my view, the most exciting potential uses will develop on their own and in ways that we cannot fully appreciate or fathom at this point -- including mobile video social networking.

In any event, I am extremely bullish on the opportunities here ...