Is Apple’s FaceTime on the iPhone Really From the Future?

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Videocalling has been a sci-fi staple for decades. From 2001 to Back to the Future people chatting face-to-face from great distances was a way of saying “Hey, look, it’s the future!” So does Facetime mean we’re in the future?

FaceTime is Apple’s stab at making videocalling a reality. They’re certainly not the first: European and Asian phones have been able to do this for years, and the HTC Evo can do it quite handily. But Apple is pushing it hard at the mainstream with the iPhone 4.

Making a call on FaceTime is very cool, at first. You see who you’re talking to! You talk about what you are doing, that being using a videocalling system built right into a phone. How cool! You can do neat things like flick the little thumbnail of yourself from corner to corner and flip between the front and back cameras. It’s just neat.

But then, once you have fiddled with it and both acknowledged how neat it is, once you have showed off your surroundings, once you move onto a conversation about something other than FaceTime, things get a little weird.

Because what are you supposed to be looking at? What should you be showing? You’re used to talking on a phone and pacing around, skimming an email, doing something else at the same time. But with this, you can’t. You just hold your phone out in front of you, awkwardly, and look at the other person looking back at you, also awkwardly. And you wonder, why are we doing this?

So really, FaceTime is great if you actually have something you want to show someone, like a new outfit or your new house or your kid. But if you’re just calling to shoot the breeze? It’s…awkward.

Which is why it’s so annoying that it’s a Wi-Fi-only feature—chances are much better that I’ll want to show someone something when I’m away from home and my Wi-Fi network. I can’t call my girlfriend and get her to approve a shirt I’m trying on at a store. I can’t call my buddies and show off a gigantic cheeseburger I’m about to eat at a restaurant. I can’t call my parents and show them the landmark I’m standing in front of on vacation.

So it leaves me wondering when I’ll ever use it, after today, when it’s fun to just call other people who are new iPhone 4 owners to marvel at our collective new trick. Really, if FaceTime is from the future, it’s from a pretty insignificant part of it. Bring on the hovercars!


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