video communication better with natural gestures

More than a third of all Skype calling minutes are in video calls.  The share of Skype video in Skype calling minutes is higher in higher income countries.  One interpretation of these statistics is that as income increases, users move from basic communication to richer, video communication.[1]  Video calling with Skype suggests a bright future for personal video calling.

Skype calls, however, are not representative of general calling patterns.  Skype calls typically involve a large, stationary screen (personal computer screen) rather than a small, hand-held screen (phone display). Faces, particularly eyes, are important features in communication.  The large, stationary screen is easier to use for face-based video communication.  In addition,  Skype calls are much more likely to be long-distance / international than are calls in general.[2] Seeing the face of a distant friend or relative might be a motivation for video calling.  But persons who see each other regularly can more easily synthesize within their brains the faces of the family and friends with whom they talk over the phone.  Hence face-oriented video calling may be less attractive among persons who regularly see each other in person.

The iPhone 4’s Facetime video communication service seems to be designed for communicating faces.  Even with the iPhone 4’s record-breaking sales and Facetime’s potential for developing open industry standards for mobile video calling, communicating faces with mobile video calling is no sure bet for a viable business.  Some speculate that Facetime is actually a Trojan Horse VoIP service.

Watch the gestures and hand positions involved in using Facetime.  The gestures and hand positions are remarkably awkward and unnatural. Switching from the front-facing camera to the rear-facing camera is a completely bizarre visual gesture. Moreover, it emphasizes the way that the iPhone flattens the visual field.

A better designed show-and-tell communicator would facilitate naturally pointing and moving the visual field. Gestures and bodily movement add much to communication beyond the showing of faces.


[1] Sten Tamkivi, General Manger, Skype Estonia, stated this fact in his presentation at eComm Europe 2009, Amersterdam, Oct. 28-30 (presentation transcript).  In an interview on May 7, 2010, Skype CEO Josh Silverman stated that more than a third of Skype calling minutes are video minutes.  Tamkivi discusses the correlation between Skype video calling and country income.

[2] Telegeography recently reported that Skype accounts for 12% of all international calling minutes.  According to Telegeography, international calling totaled about 400 billion minutes in 2009. These figures suggest about 50 billion international Skype minutes.  Figures for total Skype minutes in 2009 range from roughly 25 billion to 100 billion (for the later figure, see Tamkivi presentation). Note that conversation / traffic minutes  are one-half of end-user minutes, while the definition of minutes in reported statistics often isn’t specified. In any case, Skype international calling minutes probably account for considerably more than 50% of all Skype minutes.  In the U.S., wireline international calling minutes account for about 3% of all wireline toll minutes (see Table 14.1 in FCC, Trends 2008).  Toll minutes account for roughly 20% of all calling minutes (see ARMIS data, table 4). Roaming minutes account for about 6% of all wireless minutes.  Hence international minutes probably account for less than 1% of all minutes for U.S. wireline and wireless phones.

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