One of the hot new features of the new wave of smartphones, if you believe what they say in the tech blogs, is the front facing camera, a second camera that faces the user, intended for video calling applications. At least that’s part of the hype surrounding killer new handsets like the HTC Evo and the iPhone 4G.
Video calling, just to refresh your memories, refers to a call where not only do you hear the caller’s voice during a conversation, you can see his face as well. This is no biggie if you’ve ever done a video call using Skype or iChat on your webcam-equipped laptop. The big deal is that this can now be done using a mobile phone. On the phone, having the front facing hardware requires additional software for the video calling feature. The HTC Evo requires a preloaded app called QIK, while the iPhone uses an app called FaceTime (which only works over Wi-Fi at the moment). At the last major Stevenote, Apple referred to Facetime as a breakthrough roughly on the same level as the second coming of Jesus, an impression reinforced through the emotional heartstrings tugged on the Sam Mendez-directed FaceTime TV ads released shortly after the announcement.
As much as we all love Steve (and just like everybody, we do fall under the sway of that magic reality distortion field of his), the front facing camera – or the concept of a video call, is hardly new. My old Nokia 6680, released in 2005 had this. Granted it looked more like a monocle than a camera, but Nokia and most 3G phone manufacturers were pushing this at the time that Apple was still gushing over iPods.
Behold, “the front-facing camera” circa 2005 via the Nokia 6680: