As industries go, the mobile video calling space has pretty much exploded over the past few months, and it came almost completely out of the blue. What has happened almost overnight is that consumers, who had close to no options when it comes to video calling their friends just a few months ago, are now overwhelmed with different alternatives and have no idea which one to choose.
Of course, Facebook has thrown its hat into the video chat ring with its Facebook Skype integration, which will most likely make its way to mobile phones in the near future.
So, I thought I would make a little order in the sea of video calling applications that are now available and when you should be using what:
iPhone Video Calling
If you are an iPhone user and you want to call your friend on an iPhone, you have quite a few options.:
You can use Apple’s Facetime platform to call your friend, but that means you both have to be using a Wifi connection. This is rumored to change and iOS5 might support Facetime over 3G, but again, a rumor. Facetime works well and the video quality is superb. It also enables you to call your iPhone-using friend anywhere in the world for free.
Unlike Facetime, to call your friend on Skype, you both have to have the app installed, not to mention that you both need to have a Skype account. The advantage of course, is that Skype on iPhone works over 3G and like Facetime, the video and audio quality is surprisingly good, even on 3G.
While nearly all iPhone users have heard of the first two options, Fring, as a 3rd party app is less well known, but definitely has a nice size user-base. Generally speaking, as we said, Fring beats Skype when it comes to innovation almost every time and now supports group video chat, which is not yet supported by Skype. The UI is more fun and friendly than Skype and other apps, but the video quality seems better sometimes than others.
As the new kid on the block, Tango has done very well and accumulated over 17 million users in its first year. Generally speaking, Tango keeps getting better but I find that it still has some serious bugs that drive me to use some of the above apps every time before I use Tango.
Vtok has to be the most unknown app out of the bunch, especially since it is actually a pretty great solution. With Vtok, you can call your Gtalk friends who are on the iPhone app or to their desktop and based on my experience, the app works pretty flawlessly.
Out of all the apps on this list, Qik (recently acquired by Skype) offered the best video experience. The only problem and the reason I rarely use this app is that no one I know is on it. Yes, the app has an invite system, but the last thing people want today is to open up yet another account especially if the service has many alternatives that they are already signed up to.
iPad Video Calling
As opposed to iPhone apps, iPad users are significantly fewer options if they are interested in using a native iPad app, as opposed to an iPhone app scaled up to fit the big screen.
Well we already discussed this option above so we know the Wifi issue, but on iPad, there is another problem. Facetime only works with iPad 2. The first generation iPad did not have a camera so the Facetime option is unavailable.
This one is pretty much a no brainer and Fring is your best bet right now if you want to video call from an iPad. It is a fantastic app and the video quality is more than solid. It works on iPad 1 as well, but of course with no camera, your friends wont be able to see you but you can see them. The one issue right now with Fring for iPad is the lack of a keypad to make calls, which is a strange thing to be missing from a VoIP app but the company has told me they are working on it.
Android Video Calling
This is a great solution for Gmail users, which pretty much means all Android users. The thing is, only users with Android 2.3 and up have the option to call from the Talk app on Android devices. That is approximately 10% of Android users, which is not great, but the video quality in this case is (great).
As mentioned above, a fairly popular app that works on Android as well as iPhone. The Tango app on Android definitely leaves room for improvement with some UI inconsistencies but at the end of the day, it does what it is supposed to and enables you to video call your Android friends for free..
Similar to iPhone, Fring for Android is a great app. The Android UI is intuitive and the video quality superb. Of course, the Android app also supports group video chatting.
Skype just recently released its Android app with video call support but is only available for Android 2.3 and up so the vast majority of Android users cannot use it. In my tests on the Nexus S, the app worked well and the video quality was excellent.
Qik Video is available on Android, but just like the iPhone version faces a serious challenge of getting people to install the app. My contact list in Qik consists of five to ten people, compared to over 75 on Skype, just for comparison’s sake.
Group Video Chat
If you are on a mobile device, the only app that supports group video chat is Fring. We already discussed the pluses and minues of Fring, but the fact that the company is so far ahead of the curve on this one deserves some serious praise.
If you are on your computer, Skype supports Group video chat for a monthly fee, or you can use Google+ Hangout feature, which is free and seriously awesome.
This is a basic overview of the mobile (and a little touch of desktop) video calling landscape. There are other apps not menti0ned here such as Yahoo Messenger on mobile and MSN Messenger on desktop, as well as many others. I left out many apps on purpose as they are either too buggy to deserve a mention or have not hit the mainstream and have a very small user base. The above solutions are the most solid and popular apps to enable you to video chat with your friends and contacts.
If you liked the post, you might find these interesting too:
- 9 of the Best iPhone Apps that Let You Call for Free
- How Fring is Schooling Skype on Every Single Front
- Did Skype block fring, or fring ditched Skype?
- Fring finally comes to Android, available for download now
- fring VoIP app for iPhone