ViVu put out a press release today announcing full two-way native videoconferencing on the iPhone 4 and iPad 2. Of course this is in addition to its existing support for Windows, Mac, and Android devices.
Honestly, I didn’t think this was such a groundbreaking story, since plenty of webinar/webcast companies have already announced support for presenters and attendees on iOS devices. But then I realized that the key phrase was “two-way.” ViVu apparently is the first solution to support simultaneous up-stream/down-stream video conferencing with multiple participants all on camera at the same time, including people holding an iPad in their sweaty little hands.
The technical capability is very slick. That’s a lot of bandwidth having to squeeze through a relatively narrow wifi signal in both directions. I did a test videoconference with some of the gang at ViVu. I am still valiantly holding out in my attempts to be the last person on Earth without an Apple mobile device, but I was on my PC webcam with one person on a desk camera and another on an iPad. I was able to see a high quality, smooth image of all three video streams. The iPad was able to show the presenter, show slides, do screen sharing, and so on. It used the expected finger motion shortcuts to expand and contract windows. Really, it just worked. Nothing more to be said.
If you watch the cute little YouTube video that ViVu created to demonstrate the functionality, you will quickly see that this is primarily a device choice for informal peer-level conferencing, not for formal one-to-many web events. The natural handheld or tabletop positioning of an iPad’s camera favors a video image concentrating on the user’s nostril hairs… Not always the best feature on your average webcast presenter.
But I can imagine at least a theoretical use for companies doing structured webcasts. I have had clients who wanted to include remote-location guest presenters on camera for a short segment. But the guests don’t have webcams, or are not technically inclined to set up drivers and hook up equipment, etc. I could see the host company buying an iPad and putting a shortcut to ViVu on the desktop. They mail the thin and lightweight device to the guest, along with an easel-stand holder to put it at eye level on the user’s desk. Then the guest can simply join the conference, with the software, the camera, and the microphone all integrated into the tablet. Pretty easy, if not quite the ultimate in sound/picture quality you could get from a dedicated web video setup.
ViVu says that they are seeing huge growth in the less formal collaborative videoconferencing market, so this capability is key. And I have to admit… It is slick and ridiculously easy to use. We may very well have arrived at the breakthrough in price, convenience, and utility that will make “videophones” a commonplace reality after all.