Video telephony has been confidently predicted as the killer app of the future – the replacement for voice telephony – since at least 1927, yet attempt after attempt has met with failure in the marketplace, except for niche applications. I will look at what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and the fundamental (and challenging) changes needed before video telephony can make the transition from niche to successful mass-market application.
Early “television” was envisioned as an extension of the telephone, rather than an extension of radio. Today video conferencing is a successful niche application in enterprise environments, but most conference rooms still aren’t video equipped, despite ever-cheaper and more capable equipment. Videophones have been introduced with much fanfare and optimism dozens of times since the 1960s, yet have always failed to achieve widespread adoption and use on the scale of voice telephony. The reasons for this are rooted in our origins as savannah apes with interpersonal communication skills highly adapted to life in tribes of 50 to 300 individuals – and the failure of engineering imagination to accept that this means visual communication is not “just another channel” along with text and audio, but something that must be treated as fundamentally different.