NOTE: This article contains no genealogy information.Apple today introduced an updated version of its very popular iPhone cell phone/handheld computer. At first, I didn't see anything revolutionary in the announcement, but several nice features could be called "evolutionary." Upon closer examination, however, I did find one feature mentioned that could turn out to be a real sleeper and cost the cell phone and telephone companies billions of dollars in lost revenue.
First, the announcement says that the new iPhone 4 that will be available on June 24 will be 24% thinner (I can't get too excited about that.), will have much longer battery life (That's nice, but not revolutionary.) and will have better cameras. That's cameras with an "s" as the new device will have two cameras: one on the front and one on the back.
All of that is nice, of course, but the one item that I think is really exciting was barely mentioned in the announcement: two-way video chatting.
If two iPhone 4 users are both connected to the Internet via wi-fi, the two can chat with one another using video chat. FaceTime is the included iPhone program that gives you audio and a full-screen view of the person you're chatting with, as well as your own video image in a smaller, inset window. This strikes me as a device from Star Trek, only delivered a few centuries early.
Details are still sketchy about the FaceTime application, but a few things are obvious. First of all, this means worldwide video telephone calls with no toll charges. To be sure, both users must be connected to wi-fi networks as it will not work over cell phone networks. However, installing wi-fi in the home is now almost trivial, and hundreds of thousands of wi-fi connections are already available in coffee shops, train stations, airports, hotels, restaurants, and elsewhere. Most trains are now wi-fi connected, and even Greyhound is adding wi-fi to all their new buses. The world is becoming connected.
Want to talk to your relatives at the other end of the country or at the other end of the world? You can do so at no charge. Want to see the grandchildren? Again, do so at no charge. FaceTime also has other compelling uses, such as allowing deaf people to communicate using sign language.
Since wi-fi connectivity isn't yet universal, it may not be practical to call the other person on FaceTime at just any old time. You may be restricted to making calls on pre-arranged schedules only. Then again, you could always call via regular cell phone and have a very brief conversation: "Meet me on the wi-fi connection right now."
Of course, none of this is totally new. Similar capabilities have existed for years on Skype, Google Talk, and other applications for desktop and laptop computers. Two-way voice via wi-fi connections has also been available on the iPhone and other cell phones for some time. What is different in today's announcement is that two-way VIDEO chats are now to be available in the ultimate portable communications device: the handheld cell phone. Once the iPhone 4 introduces this capability later this month, I am sure that other manufacturers will follow very soon.
I can get excited about two-way video in a cell phone. Beam me up, Scotty.
You can learn more in a great video at http://www.apple.com/iphone/features/facetime.html#facetime-video