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New smart phones pave the way for mobile video chats

IT staff, educators, and students might find iPhone's new video conferencing features useful

Apple's latest iPhone has many implications for education.

Apple's latest iPhone has many implications for education.

Apple’s iPhone 4, unveiled June 7 and set for release June 24, features a mobile video conferencing application that could increase collaboration among students at different locations and make cross-district and on-the-go meetings easier for school officials.

Video conferencing is possible with the addition of a second camera on the front of the new iPhone, in addition to a five-megapixel camera and a flash on the back. For now, the video conferencing function, FaceTime, works only if both parties to the call have an iPhone 4 and are connected over a Wi-Fi network rather than a cell phone network.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs indicated that FaceTime eventually will work over cellular networks, saying Apple needs to “work a little bit” with wireless providers to make it “ready for the future.”

The iPhone’s FaceTime feature might help school technology staff hold meetings from different locations and troubleshoot specific problems.

SysAid Technologies is one company that has launched an iPhone IT assistance application. The Helpdesk Application and SysAid IT Mobile help IT staff control service requests, including viewing, updating, filtering, and customizing requests.

IT specialists might find the FaceTime application helpful during conversations if they must identify specific messages on computer screens or relay instructions for a procedure occurring across a school district.

Various media outlets and technology enthusiasts had differing opinions of FaceTime and whether the feature would succeed.

The San Francisco Chronicle predicted that FaceTime will be a success, because mobile video conferencing “is available on a device that will achieve sufficient saturation among groups,” the Wi-Fi networks over which FaceTime is set to operate will make the application look and sound top-notch, and Apple likely will make the application very easy to use, prompting more participation.

Meanwhile, CNET pointed to a handful of reasons why the video conferencing feature might not prevail: Holding a cell phone at arm’s length to capture a continuous image of the caller’s face, while keeping one’s arm steady enough so that the image is not shaky, is not physically comfortable after a while. CNET also said that video calls are awkward by nature, and because FaceTime operates only on Wi-Fi for the time being, users will be forced to use the feature at home, at school, or in other Wi-Fi hotspots.

The news site also said that “according to Apple, FaceTime won’t support 3G this year, which is strange given that Fring, Skype, and other VoIP apps offer it.”

Mobile video conferencing might not have taken off yet, but Apple isn’t the first company to offer this capability on a mobile device. Sprint HTC EVO 4G users can video chat with the new Qik software offered on the phone. And with Fring, users can make free mobile video calls and live chats over a cellular or Wi-Fi network with other Fring members and other services such as Skype, GoogleTalk, Facebook, and more.

Apple is trying to tighten the links between the iPhone and its iPad tablet, which came out April 3. It is releasing a version of its iBooks eReading application for the iPhone, which means people could buy an eBook from Apple on either device and read it on either one as well.

That compatibility could incite more universities and iPhone-toting college students to turn to the iPad as an eReader.

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