The year is 1992. I am in pajamas, drinking a hot cocoa filled with two dozen miniature marshmallows as I watch my hero – Starship Captain Jean-Luc Picard – take a dignified sip of replicated Earl Grey tea. He is in the captain’s quarters, and a melodic tone alerts him that he is about to receive a message from the crew. He turns to a small laptop-like computer on his desk, and a crystal clear image of Lieutenant Commander Data appears on the screen. “You are needed on the Bridge, Sir,” says Data. “A Klingon Bird of Prey has decloaked in front of the Enterprise. They’re hailing us.” Captain Picard rises from his seat, straightens out his Starfleet uniform, and passes through an automatic door to the bridge. He takes his place in the captain’s chair, and utters two simple words that would become a guiding principle of my life:
That day I developed a sincere passion for the power of video, and understood the key role it would play in the future of human communication. The heroes of Star Trek could not have made the dire decisions they faced on the show without the ability to look aliens directly in the eye and determine the truth.
Decades have come and gone, and many of the miraculous technologies we imagined would be real today, will not be appearing on store shelves any time soon. But in the year 2016, one space-age technology is about to enter its own long-awaited golden age: video conferencing.
Like the maiden voyage of the USS Enterprise, VC Daily is launching with this same spirit of adventure and excitement in mind. We’re here to guide you through the brave new universe of the next step in human communication.
The Stars are Aligning for a Video Conferencing Disruption
The growth and propagation of video conferencing technology has been a slow one. Ever since the invention of the telephone, the idea of combining video with voice transmissions had already entered the imagination of inventive minds. The first public video telephone service was Germany’s Gegensehn-Fernsprechanlagen, developed by Dr. Georg Schubert all the way back in 1936.
But since that time, pervasive video calling has been cursed by three mighty obstacles: expense, ease of use, and access. The smartphones of today slay these demons easily.
With apps like Skype, Facetime, and Google video becoming ubiquitous on all smartphones, cheap data and razor-sharp cameras will remove previous obstacles to making wifi video calls a common way to communicate.
The life stages of video conferencing hardware follows a similar pattern often found in technology. Tesla Motors—for example—began with a novel and expensive all-electric sports car that only wealthy “early adopters” could afford. They then used the knowledge and development from that product to release the Model S, which was more versatile, and a wider section of the public could use. Tesla is soon to release the Model 3, an affordable car which will bring widespread access of electric vehicles to middle-class families.
Similarly, early video phones were a novelty that only the rich could afford and use. The second stage was video conferencing and telepresence adoption by large corporations. Now, affordable video conferencing hardware brings HD video chat to techies and small businesses, while smartphone apps bring wifi video calling to everyone.
A Web-Based Phone Revolution Is Coming
January 29, 2007 marked the release of Apple’s first iPhone. During his announcement presentation, Steve Jobs teased that they were going to release three innovative devices: a Widescreen Touch iPod, a Revolutionary New Phone, and a Breakthrough Internet Communications device. The iPhone turned out to be all three; and so the smartphone era began.
Excited consumers first entering the world of mobile technology had to suffer through several years of hassles with restrictive cell phone carriers and plans, as well as high costs and caps on data which limited their ability to maximize the use of their phones as a web device. The birth of internet integrated smartphones began the slow death of landline telephones, but more importantly, the death of cell tower hegemony and long-term cell service contracts.
Opening up phones to the web also opened phone companies to tough competition. New cell services such as Google Fi give an incredible mobile deal to their users by automatically receiving calls through wifi connections whenever possible. Data is much cheaper on Google Fi than anything offered by AT&T and other telecom giants. It’s always $10 a gigabyte, and you never pay for data you don’t use. I’m sure this is only the beginning. Other players will competitively improve service and lower phone data costs, giving the same freedoms we enjoy on our desktop computers to the phones in our pockets. More data means more freedom to choose video over voice-only call options.
Wifi networks don’t blanket the globe like cell towers…yet. But satellites and self-driving cars could become the wifi hotspots of the future.
It’s a Cultural Thing
Even with access to facetime on my iPhone, I honestly don’t use it as much as I could. But as the generation of dial-up internet users give way to people raised with tablets in their hands, the added depth of video communication will become an easy choice for them. Many aren’t aware of how easy video calling has become, or the option simply doesn’t come to mind. It is an ongoing process. Few internet users today participate in video calls, and many are special scheduled events that lack the spontaneity of a normal phone call.
“To some degree, video will make the case for itself as more people experience it…There are lots and lots of cases where video is inappropriate, but I do think that when it hits the cell phone and it’s literally as easy as making a voice call, I think it will be a lot more prevalent.”
-Andrew Davis, Wainhouse Research Analyst
I imagine a future where hardware attachments add zoomable panning cameras to smartphones for a portable HD wifi call experience. These low cost, easy entry options are a bridge to more immersive solutions, and the prevalence of video calls on our phones will be an enormous driving force to the widespread awareness and utilization of more advanced video conferencing technology in the days to come.
Only 140 years have passed since Alexander Graham Bell spoke these famous words through the world’s first telephone: “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you.” It is amazing to consider that history’s first phone call was an expression of a desire to see the person on the other line. Just as the telephone was born from Bell’s dream to expand the telegraph to carry human voices, video conferencing was born from the desire to see the faces of those we’re speaking to. I wonder if Bell could have imagined that in less than two centuries he would have been able to see Mr. Watson from anywhere in the world, and what a difference that would make for business, personal, and every other form of human interaction.
Image source: Flickr CC user Tom Page