Mobile Video Calls: Ball Is In Users’ Court

One of the funniest things about the far-futuristic movie Johnny Mnemonic was the climactic plot point of having the protagonists desperately seeking… a dial-up Internet connection. But the movies remain forward-thinking when it comes to mobile video calls–unless and consumers and professional users like marketers clamor for it, the technology won’t become mass-market technology within the next five years, according to the firm Juniper Research.

It’s not like there hasn’t been  lot of ballyhoo. Sexy solutions abound, like Apple’s FaceTime iPhones, and the Qik and Fring apps for Android phones like the EVO. Thing is, Juniper points out in the new report “Next Generation Smartphones: Strategic Opportunities and Markets, 2010-2015,” none of these solutions are compatible with each other. “The use of video calling has had several false dawns and has remained flat in recent years,” Anthony Cox, Senior Analyst at Juniper, said in a release. “We forecast that there will be 29 million smartphone video users in 2015, but the market may be held back by a lack of interoperability between different devices.”

But now is a big opportunity for professionals, like marketers, who benefit by appearing forward-thinking in their respective fields. Remember, just two years ago at Under The Radar: Mobility I noted that carriers were finally starting to talk about location-based services (LBS) with something like a plan, and that was many years after enthusiasts had been babbling on about them.

And now, we have Foursquare. We have gobs of companies who just this year–indeed, mostly in the second part of this year–have launched LBS-based campaigns that keep consumers engaged while keeping tabs on their habits. There was  even a recent LBS Marketing Summit.

It was the marketing industry that pushed for LBS, and it should push for video as well. Think of having face-to-face customer service calls–when looking directly in someone’s eye, it’s easier for both parties to be more empathetic and prone to resolving issues. Or imagine being able to offer a celebrity video call as a prize for consumer loyalty–the 21st-century equivalent of “win a dream date” contests in 1970s teen magazines.

And finally, consumers are going to be extremely interested in having video calls that work cross-platform among friends and family members with disparate phones. As Mr. Cox said, “In the longer term the growth of WiFi and 3G in developing markets may make video calling an attractive option for international calls for those working and living away from their families.”