FaceTime? Try Rehashed Pea Salad
Imagine that you hate peas. It shouldn't be a difficult exercise, the green balls of mush smell like a towel return outside a sauna devoted to those suffering from gangrene and taste even worse.
As repulsive as peas are, some people apparently like them. Any pea hater will tell you that they are constantly faced with conversion attempts. Attempts to make them realize their pea-hating ways are in error. The pea hater will be eating at someone else's home and admit to loathing the spitball of the vegetable world and become immediately embroiled in a pea conversion tête-à-tête. They'll get the classic "Oh, but you'll love my peas!" As though there is something magical that a particular cook could do to peas to make them palatable. Still, the cook ardently believes that their added dash of salt or pat of butter will make the peas irresistible. The truth is that Wolfgang Puck could pour caramel syrup over the things and serve them on solid gold toothpicks and it wouldn't make peas anymore palatable.
So why does anyone eat peas? Peas seem like the perfect food, they seem like something everyone should like. One imagines peas have nutrients, fiber and other stuff your body needs. But the real draw of peas is that they are easy to make. Crack open a can or a bag of frozen peas and you have an almost instant healthy side dish, right?
With Monday's introduction of the iPhone there was a lot to like but one of the big selling points was just another can of peas. The great stuff about the new iPhone is easy to tick off: better battery life, better camera, HD video recording, a flash for those low light situations, the wrap around antennae and so forth. The thing Apple was pushing the hardest was FaceTime and it's something you've had before and didn't like. Like the peas Apple seems to think you'll finally like it this time, but you won't.
FaceTime is video calling. You are familiar with this concept because people have been fantasizing about it since Alexander Graham Bell said: "Mr. Watson come here. I need you." It seems like a great idea, what if you could talk to someone and actually see them at the same time! Hit the bricks George Jetson, Apple's caught up with you and it is only 2010.
The truth is Apple had already caught George Jetson back in 2003. That's when the company introduced iChat AV. You remember the big deal Apple made about actually being able to see the person you were chatting with, listening to the company you would've imagined that chatting over iSights was the next huge revolution coming to the world of computing.
Then things got a little weird. It turns out people didn't really want to look at each other when they were chatting. Chatting was something you did in the background while you were doing something else. Face to face chatting, while it seems natural when you are out and about, doesn't feel so great when you're parked in front of your Mac. Everyone tried it out and no one stuck with it. You'll note that while you've tried peas, we all have an experimental phase after all, you've likely never ordered peas in a restaurant. That was iChat AV. It seems great conceptually but it is mostly useless in practice.
Saying no one liked it isn't quite right. Apple loved the concept. The company stuck with it and with iChat 3 Apple introduced the visual conference call concept. Four folks could chat away looking at each other's smiling, though badly lit, faces. Expecting conference video calling to go over huge when video chatting is stalled is a lot like expecting a pea hater to love your peas because you've cooked four cans instead of two.
At this point people are going to be complaining that people actually love video chatting. You'll hear about the person who uses iChat to watch his son grow up while he was stationed at the North Pole, or about innovative uses for video chatting on the Mac. Which is great, some people do manage to do interesting stuff with iChat video chatting. On the other hand, my kid stuffed peas up his nose when he was little, but that doesn't mean stuffing peas up your nose is a revolutionary way of pea eating.
Which brings us back to FaceTime. If iChat didn't rule the world, if the phone companies never got video phones off the ground, why does Apple think that FaceTime is a revolution on the iPhone? Before that question is answered, a look at the current trends in telephonic communication is required. The easiest way for most of us to get a reply, a question answered, isn't with a phone call. It is with a text. A text limits the amount of time and effort you have to spend interacting with someone and it makes everything simpler. Humans, being essentially lazy creatures, prefer the 20 seconds it takes to text over a fifteen minute phone call. The concept of a video call is even more troubling. You don't just have to worry about getting involved in an actual conversation, you have to worry about how you look and what you are revealing.
When FaceTime so clearly goes against the trend, why is Apple pushing it? Is Apple certain that people will finally love its peas? Not likely. Apple is pushing FaceTime not because everyone in the world will be using an iPhone 4 on Wi Fi and be able to take advantage of FaceTime. Apple isn't pushing FaceTime because someday the carriers will get onboard and video calling will be the standard way to make a call. Apple is pushing FaceTime because it seems like something you should want, like peas.
FaceTime is a perfect marketing decision. You can imagine yourself using it; you can imagine the situations where you'd actually kill someone to have it, and that is the kind of thing that moves phones out the door. Apple knows you won't really use FaceTime more than once or twice, but the company also knows that promising that you'll like this version of pea salad will draw you in and put a fourth generation iPhone in your pocket. Don't expect FaceTime to be a communication revolution, that method of communication has been tried and proven marginal over and over, and this time will be no different.