The purpose of the popular Snapchat app is to share brief moments with friends, which means all photos and videos will disappear after they have been seen, but still allow either you or your friends to save anything by tapping or taking a screenshot. The app has now been updated with instant messaging and live video calls.
Honestly, from this distance it’s hard to tell what’s going on, but 9 to 5 Mac says we’re looking at a next-gen camera-equipped iPad fielded specifically to test video calls. As you may recall, iPhone software surfaced with a very similar menu just weeks before the iPhone 4 came out, which either means someone was inspired to create a clever ‘shop, or that we just got our first real glimpse at iProd 4,1. Oh, and Mr. Extreme Closeup? He’s our friend Blurrycam’s old college roommate, didn’t you know?
An Apple representative has clarified that the new FaceTime video calls won’t use up carrier minutes, even when a video chat is originated during a phone call.
The news, highlighted report by Dan Frommer of Silicon Alley Insider, means that users won’t have to worry about how long they talk when establishing video calls over WiFi.
“The voice call ends as soon as the FaceTime call connects,” Frommer wrote. “The FaceTime call is over WiFi so does not use carrier minutes.”
That’s good news for users with AT&T, as it means FaceTime won’t be dependent upon the quality or continuity of a background 3G mobile connection. It’s also good news for anyone who feared that the end of unlimited data plans would be lethal to the new FaceTime feature. At WWDC, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs noted that the new feature would initially be WiFi only, but that the company was working with providers to figure out how to accommodate calls over mobile networks in the future.
Dong so would involve some significant engineering issues, because unlike other forms of data that might be okay to send lazily (such as email attachments), video calls demand low latency and high bandwidth to deliver a functional and acceptable level service.
Apple may have focused all its laser-beam attention on the iPad at Wednesday’s press event, but that wasn’t the computing giant’s only announcement. Effective immediately, Apple has given up blocking voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls over 3G data networks on the iPhone, and has changed the SDK to reflect the allowance. Of course, your carrier has to also comply for VoIP calls to work over 3G in addition to Wi-Fi. Luckily for us, AT&T in the U.S. is already on board.
We tested Fring’s one-way video calls over 3G.
(Credit: Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)
The iCall app was one of the first to announce the 3G compatibility news to its VoIP users. Fring, a voice and chat app that supports Skype, SIP, and video calls, soon followed. We wanted to see just how reliable Fring’s VoIP video calling was in the absence of Wi-Fi, so we turned off the wireless and made a few calls.
Fring dials out from a dial pad using cellular, SIP, or Skype, and can also make video calls with a compatible service. We tested Skype video calls within California and from the CNET offices, first with 3G and then with Wi-Fi. We also tested with and without headphones.
Video calls were one-way–we could see our callers through their Webcams, but they couldn’t see us. Despite having full bars of AT&T reception, our callers clearly heard only one out of every 5 or 6 words with the headphones plugged in, but we could hear them. We sounded clearer with the headphones out, but couldn’t hear as well on our end. Wi-Fi made the voice transaction clearer all around and caused fewer crashes and stalls.
Stability was an issue over both Wi-Fi and 3G. We had to restart Fring multiple times throughout the course of a call. Of course, the Skype service itself isn’t without delays and freezes when you use it on a home computer supported by fast, reliable Internet, and we haven’t had a chance to extensively test all Fring scenarios with Wi-Fi and 3G. Your experience may differ based on your own surroundings and the technology level on the other end of the line. One thing that’s clear is that Fring’s service indeed makes calls over 3G–albeit inconsistently, in our experience–in addition to calls over Wi-Fi. Improving stability and performance are the next steps for Fring, Skype, and other VoIP players taking advantage of iPhone’s newly relaxed regulations.