Future, we are here. With today's launch of the Sprint HTC EVO 4G, the hotly anticipated smartphone running Google's Android OS, video chatting moves off the desktop and into the palm of your hand.
Using the popular Qik mobile application, EVO owners will be able to chat with other EVO owners and, eventually, with any smartphone user whose phone sports a forward-facing camera.
Are we on the precipice of a whole new form of communication? Or is mobile video chat going to be just for fun?
Qik for EVO: Free Chat or Premium Features
Qik is not the first company to launch video chat, neither here in the U.S. nor overseas, where similar services have been available for some time. On Windows Mobile, for example, niche solutions like iVisit and camfrog are available now, but don't kick yourself for not knowing they existed. In the U.S. at least, no large video chat brand has ever attempted to do what Qik is doing now - launch a consumer-friendly video chat service on this scale.
Oh, and it's free, too.
Pre-launch, there was some confusion as to whether Qik would be yet another nickel-and-dimed upgrade from Sprint, when leaked news seemed to point to a $5/month upgrade for its use, but now that the service has officially arrived, we at last have full details on what's free and what's not.
The $5/month upgrade plan brings EVO users additional, premium features, but most can get by with the basic, free service without any issues.
A comparison chart on Qik's website highlights all the differences between the two plans, but the most notable valued-added features include video conferencing at higher video resolutions, unlimited video archiving, specialized video access permissions and "priority" support. In other words, this package is aimed squarely at business users whose needs will be greater than the everyday consumer.
The premium features will be offered to all new users until July 15th, at which point the upcharge will kick in if you want to keep the premium service.
Another interesting feature available in the new Qik for EVO application is its "video mail" capabilities. If you want to send a video to a non-Qik user, you can send it out as an SMS message. This isn't just a useful feature for unshackling video communications from being limited just to EVO handsets, but it also has the benefit of raising awareness about mobile video chatting services in general. Every SMS video message sent is like an ad for Qik...or maybe for EVO itself.
Beyond Qik: Skype, Fring, More?
Video chatting won't be limited to Qik/EVO pairings, though. If the stolen iPhone prototype is any indication, the upcoming iPhone 4G will include a front-facing camera as well and likely a mobile version of Apple's iChat to take advantage of the feature.
Fring is another up-and-coming company which began offering mobile video calls late last year on various Nokia devices. They're now doing the same on all capable Android phones - in fact, they even beat Qik to the punch by a matter of days.
And of course, there's Skype, the grand-daddy of video chat solutions, who is launching an Android app later this year. Although Skype won't officially say whether a mobile video calling feature will be included, an accidental blurb released from Skype PR seemed to confirm the company's plans in that area. ("We intend to set the bar on mobile video calling, and it's something we're going to do this year," a spokesperson had said before they took it back.)
Are we on the verge of a mobile video chat revolution? It appears so. How useful will these types of service be? Time will tell, but our guess is: very. Video chatting is already popular on the desktop and laptop, both for business and personal use. Remote workers, virtual teams, work-from-home staff, helpdesk professionals and others take advantage of video chat capabilities while at work and individuals use it to connect with families and friends when far from home, too.
Now with mobile video chat, the opportunity to reach another segment of the market - those whose primary "computer" is their mobile phone - is ripe. Not everyone slaves away behind a keyboard where traditional video chat programs reside. Now they don't have to - mobile video chat brings this new avenue of communications to all owners of modern-day phones.
Now if we could just get it on our wristwatch, we'd be all set.