Monday, October 23, 2006

Mobile Video Calling Part III -- Uniquely Capturing the Ordinary & Extraordinary

For any of you who have followed the "how big will mobile video calling be?" debate -- which was initiated nearly one week ago by Luca Filigheddu -- you have seen many familiar and respected voices chiming in. These have included Jeff Pulver, friend and Advisory Board member of SightSpeed Andy Abramson, and friend and respected blogger Ken Camp, each of whom offered useful perspective in addition to Luca's. I have already written two separate posts myself as part of this debate, but feel the need to write one more to respond to some of the points raised in the past couple days.

First, my prediction -- mobile video calling will be big, big, big! And, it will be much bigger than any of us imagine.


I won't reiterate my prior points, but consider the following:

(1) As underscored by both Jeff Pulver and Ken Camp, mobile video calling uniquely captures the spontaneity of "special" or unique moments in life (i.e., the extraordinary), and uniquely empowers the sharing of those moments like nothing else can; I recently climbed Mt. Whitney -- the highest peak in the Continental U.S. at 14,500 feet (a spectacular thing to do, by the way) -- and was quite astonished to have full Verizon cell phone reception at the top of the peak (which enabled me to call my wife, Luisa, who was at sea level that day at the beach); imagine, instead, if I could have given her a full live view from the top with pristine video! Now THAT would have been extraordinary!

(2) At the same time, and what I believe to be significantly more important in terms of the primary use cases (and, hence, the truly "big" market opportunity), mobile video calling uniquely empowers the sharing of the "mundane" or everyday ordinary moments in life like nothing else can. For example, with mobile video calling, I can show my wife a bunch of items on a grocery store shelf and effectively ask her which product it is that she wants me to bring home -- and I can do it a helluva lot more efficiently and effectively with video;

(3) Both special (extraordinary) and mundane (ordinary) moments in life occur both for consumers and SMB/enterprise users, of course, and mobile video calling accordingly will address the needs of both (read my lips, "big business opportunities"); Luca challenged my earlier real estate agent example by indicating that digital photos can fit the bill when showing a home, but I disagree -- imagine if I could stay in my office while my wife looks for new homes and gives me a live video "tour" of every nook and cranny of interesting potential homes via live mobile video calling? That's the kind of unique power that "see what I'm seeing" functionality gives you, if done right;

(4) Luca concedes that current 3G mobile video calling quality is subpar -- and, current implementations are cumbersome and not particularly easy to use; in Luca's words, "It's true, quality is not so good." Things undoubtedly will change in this regard -- i.e., usage will significantly accelerate when quality and ease of use are as they should be (Luca, SightSpeed will ensure that this is the case ... stay tuned!) :)

(5) Finally, while Andy Abramson agrees that mobile video calling is an exciting opportunity with real utility, he believes that its use will be limited by geography, differing social patterns, etc. While an interesting perspective, I respectfully disagree here with my friend. When mobile video calling is truly embraced by the carriers, then it will be marketed effectively and wholeheartedly, and such marketing will help to promote and push adoption to the mainstream and without geographic restriction due to the multiple use cases I envision. And, I have little doubt that carriers ultimately will embrace this opportunity, as it is a "sexy" functionality to market for reasons noted above.

Would any of us involved in this debate have believed a couple years ago that photography via mobile phones would become such a vast market and marketing opportunity for the carriers? I highly doubt it. If we had this same debate when digital cameras were first being integrated into mobile phones, my guess is that several of us would have predicted that the use cases for mobile phone photography would be limited and consumers would not embrace it.

But, then, life took over ... meaning that consumers and business users alike began to play with this new easy-to-use utility ... and found more and more uses for it. Sure, initially, the quality of these pictures was not very good and still is not great. But, it has steadily improved and, voila, more and more people are leaving their digital cameras behind and capturing moments (both extraordinary and ordinary) via their mobile "phones" which are with them at all times. THAT is the power of ease of use, improving quality, and broad awareness via marketing.

Now, of course, camera phones are the norm and are a part of everday life.

The same thing will happen here with mobile video calling -- we simply cannot begin to predict all of the "use cases" for mobile video calling once it is as it should be and once it is marketed actively and is broadly available.

But, those use cases most surely will come ... and keep coming ... and mobile video calling will become such an everyday part of the mobile experience that we will look back and wonder what we once did without it.