FaceTime and the elevation of emotion over function

With 50 million clients installed likely this year, FaceTime is a service which may have potential.  By potential I mean, of course, its potential to make a dent in the universe, the universal goal Jobs has set for Apple so many years ago.

It’s entirely possible that FaceTime will be an inconsequential nice-to-have enhancement to the iPhone platform that sustains and improves the iOS (and OSX) franchise. But it’s also entirely possible that FaceTime could become a disruptive challenger to the functional voice-oriented telecom network.

What you choose to measure determines what you know

The thing that jumps out at me is the service’s under-performance along metrics that the industry defines as critical but over-performance on dimensions that the industry considers non-critical.

It suffers from poor coverage (WiFi only), a limited network of possible users, high bandwidth requirements which are still hard to match and a steep price point for initial entry.

But I would say data-oriented devices were similarly met with poor performance 4 to 5 years ago. No 3G, poor coverage, few services and high prices. Even today there are many telecom skeptics who think smartphones are toys for the well-to-do or IT types and not something for the mass market.  As can be easily seen however, all the shortcomings of the mobile-data-oriented-device (aka smartphone) turned out to get ironed out with time. You just need to plot a historic graph of network performance and device price points to see where they’re going to go.

On the other side of the equation FaceTime offers huge performance on the dimension of emotional attachment to a device and to a conversation. The FaceTime experience is qualitatively distinct from either desktop video chat or device-based VoIP. It’s intimate, emotional and stirring, (just look at the commercial) not to mention accessible by just about anyone. These new measures of performance cannot yet be quantified with spreadsheets and measuring the effect will not be a priority for anyone in the industry for a long time to come. Therefore, the asymmetry is there implicitly.

So here we have classic Apple: shifting of the basis of competition so subtly that it’s almost imperceptible while under way yet glaringly obvious after the fact.

So what does FaceTime have to do with FaceBook?

When FaceBook launched, I don’t recall observers predicting that a site allowing college students to keep track of their friends after graduation would grow into the stickiest site by time spent online ever seen. Nor that it would become a site that swallowed all online communications including IM and email. Nor a site that would possibly challenge search consumption. The performance attributes that FaceBook relied on were not in algorithms but in the emotional hooks that relationships have with people. FaceBook was personal, emotive and private, the exact opposite of what the Web offered a decade ago.

So, like the names imply, both these services are about Faces, the first objects we as humans recognized after birth. That’s a powerful image to have a handle on.

The pattern that emerges is that Web 2.0, Telecom 2.0 and Personal Computing 2.0 will pivot on the elevation of emotion over function. That may be a banality but empires have been built on less.

  • rd

    Face of Facebook. Not a pretty picture.

  • Vertti

    I don't like when someone says that The Apple Is A Toy Company!
    (That would be Steve Jobs and Walt Disney Company)

    How Apple does it's products is amazing!
    Critical mass is the story and Apple has it.

    Apple has the delight to seriously toy with these other companies. They do not have a clue what is happening and how AAPL uses those 45 Billion dollars in cash 😉

    Our favorite Fruit Company is the only one who knows how to do that Can Can 😉

  • berult

    To link up to your previous post, I believe real time video communication is the entry point of smart communication devices into the commodity market. Abate the consumer's reluctance to put his natural inhibitions on the line day in day out, and you shift the paradigm to unhibited, highly engaging communication theory. And you know how emotions can make or brake a deal, can push us along or pull us back on the evolutionary path. 

    The power of emotional expression can at last fully unfold with the mobilizing of the last key element, the human optical apparatus. Alexander Graham Bell made a commodity out of the human hearing apparatus and its technological extension, the telephone. The market is dying to come full circle and close the deal once for all on a fully matured, fully engaged, highly personalized human communication network.

    Resistance is stubborn, I know.

    Do I want to see your grinning or somber, happy or sinister, asymmetrical or scarred face while I'm talking to you on the phone or writing this post on your Blog? Assuredly yes, if I could ascertain the impossibility of you perusing mine… The beauty is the eyes of the beholder, and that tends to raise the stakes for the fragile and the beholden.

    If only we could make it so simple and unassuming. If you stumble on it by accident because it's right there next to your fingertips, you'll bear it out the first times and stealthily become engaged in the process, and learn to integrate the intangible artifacts of "con sensual'' communication.

    Once you reach the critical mass threshold, enough "let it all hang out" around for a carry over effect to take hold, the market sets itself up to mirror the sight lines so to speak. And a commodity market is born…      

  • It’s the Facebook generation that will make Facetime or an equivalent, the standard way of talking to each other. Older users will use it to keep in touch with family and old friends. Businesses too will really benefit, from the need for fewer meetings and fewer misunderstandings.

    Look however for the iPod touch to drive this market as WiFi becomes much more widespread. More thoughts in

  • Facetime booty calls are great!

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  • Mark Hernandez

    With the Nokia event happening as we speak, it occurred to me that raw hardware specs, and the exceedingly lengthy list of what any app store has to offer any current phone has now become an almost meaningless marketing tool. Will 1080p output impacty my daily enjoyment and productivity?

    Again, it's overload. The app stores are overloaded, just like the record stores, book stores, video stores, etc. The only thing that would stand out to anyone is some kind of "experience" that they'll respond to, and remember.

    Mobile device manufacturers must remember they're marketing to human beings, not machines. We are psychological creatures. If you don't know the simple fact that humans can only remember a few to several things about any given subject, then tsk tsk tsk. 225,000 apps is meaningless. Quad core 1.5 Ghz processor in your phone with 12 ports is meaningless.

    Out of all that noise, what will rise to the surface and be noticed?


    Pure and simple. Emotion drives FaceTime marketing, iADs, and Apple's commercials which share with every last human being that watches TV the experience of using the iPhone and iPad. People already know how to use it without having touched one in real life. And they can walk into an Apple store and pick one up and really experience it further without being kicked to the curb by the OS's learning curve.

    Take me. This is my industry. But with a Blackberry or Android device I have still YET to find out what it's like to use either of those phones outside of a few minutes spent with a friend's.

    The Droid commercials do little to entice me, showing that somehow using one will give me superhuman typing skills at the conference table, or the recent Blackberry commercials with the excessively gay guys (I'm gay and even I don't find them the least bit appealing or funny) which leaves me ONLY with the knowledge that on a Blackberry I can tell if someone has read my messages but not responded. Big effin' deal.

    Well, it pales in comparison to EMOTIONAL marketing that Apple is currently the master of. People remember those commercials because they're human beings, not walking recorders of feature lists and comparison tables.


  • airmanchairman

    When all the excitement, emotion and booty-calling is said and done, the true functionality of Facetime will start to filter through, just like those absolutely amazing anecdotes of FindMyiPhone which have regaled us from many parts of the world already.

    And when even that has died down, the humdrum everyday uses of the technology will take over to an extent that we will, as usual, start to conjecture how we managed to live and work without it in the past:

    Field engineers will walk down unfamiliar DataCentre corridors guided by a remote voice that knows the location presented by the forward-facing view in FaceTime; communicating with their Network Operations Centre Tier 3 engineers, they will switch from face view to rack / router / switch port view, as they are talked through various operations, and in turn are presented by the NOC with the result of their efforts in the form of real-time video wall and computer screen readouts.

    Police informants and stealthily-advancing undercover officers, train drivers and their conductors and guards, householders and guests approaching their doors, cabin crew and pilots, etc, etc – FaceTime and its competing equivalents will gradually worm their way into human activity as has all functionally-useful technology over the years…

    • Berp

      Hear, hear…!