I saw the promo video for Apple’s forthcoming iPhone 4 today. One of the new features they’re touting is FaceTime, a video conferencing application made possible by the iPhone 4’s front-facing camera. I have to say I’m a little dumbfounded at the hype they’re spinning into this “new” feature.
Way back in 2006 I lived in Japan and owned a Sony SO702i, a tiny cell phone with both forward- and rear-facing cameras. (Here is a Japanese-language Web page with some nice pictures of the phone.) Apple says they’re “bringing video calling to the world,” but my little Sony had virtually the exact same video conferencing features as the new iPhone. In fact, the Sony had a feature that made it significantly better than iPhone’s FaceTime: It could video conference over the cellular network. The iPhone only does it via WiFi.
When talking about the video conferencing features of the iPhone 4, one narrator in the Apple video says, “the very first time I had a FaceTime call I was blown away,” and another exclaims, “I can’t believe this is real, this is actually happening.” Have these people never heard of webcams?
This all reminds me of another hyped-up product, the Dyson Airblade. Dyson claims to have invented new technology that drys your hands faster than conventional air dryers by shooting tiny jets of air at your wet hands when you insert them into the machine. I’m not clear how they can claim to have invented this type of hand dryer; I used a nearly identical device the first time I visited Japan in 1994.