Video Conferencing Bucks Trend
Consumerization may be the new thing in IT, but not in this case.There seems to be no such thing as a middle ground for video conferencing. Essentially, the choices for most businesses boil down to being either cheap or pretty.
The full-blown telepresence scenario, on one hand, provides a polished and professional experience, but requires a tremendous investment in facilities and hardware. On the other hand, the do-it-yourself approach based on Apple's FaceTime or a Skype client flies in the face of traditional, top-down approaches to IT; however, many users see these DIY technologies working well for them outside the office and want the same convenience at work. In either case, full interoperability remains a pipe dream for anything beyond the most rudimentary instances.
Going It Alone, Sort OfApple's FaceTime is relatively new on the scene, having debuted last year with the iPhone 4. Having been introduced in October 2010 for Mac OS X systems, FaceTime appears destined to replace the company's iChat service in many aspects. Although Apple CEO Steve Jobs promised at the launch of the iPhone 4 that the company would seek to make FaceTime an "open" standard, no standards bodies have ratified it. It's not even clear if Apple has submitted FaceTime to any outside groups for consideration. What is clear is that FaceTime is based on a number of open standards, including the H.264 video codec and the AAC audio codec. Session Initiation Protocol is used for signaling, and other Internet Engineering Task Force standards and technologies are used for firewall and Network Address Translation traversal and for delivering multimedia streams in real time with and without encryption. It's therefore possible to argue that FaceTime is far closer to openness than Skype, but since FaceTime is restricted to Apple's own hardware for the moment, in practical terms, it's a much less open ecosystem than Skype, which in its consumer version is truly multiplatform, as it's available for Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. With the number of executives and senior managers packing iPads and iPhones increasing every day, FaceTime is undoubtedly going to worm its way into the enterprise, even if a business-focused set of features is beyond the horizon. Although it presumably would be in Apple's interest to open up FaceTime to services beyond its control (or that of its partners AT&T and Verizon), such a move could be years away. Although one of the hot IT concepts of 2011 is consumerization-the application of consumer technologies to business purposes-it's clear that video conferencing technology is still an archipelago where consumer technologies are just a flyspeck on the map. Interoperability continues to elude the big-ticket telepresence and consumer-focused vendors alike, and that will hobble the entire market for video conferencing for as long as one can see.