FaceTime’s future

In episode 20 of The Bro Show, Myke, Terry and guest Patrick discussed something I want to expand upon. Namely, the future of FaceTime, the mobile video calling solution that Apple introduced with the iPhone 4. It’s certainly the device’s marquee feature.

Myke [2. I think it was Myke. Correct me if I’m wrong.] made an astute observation: if you consider the television ads that have aired so far, you’ll notice that Apple hasn’t advertised the iPhone 4 per se. Instead, it’s advertised FaceTime. FaceTime is the product and the iPhone 4 is the delivery system. Of course that will change, but how and when? Here are my thoughts.

FaceTime for Mac

During The Bro Show, the guys suggested that iChat will be replaced with “FaceTime for Mac.” I agree and expect it to be a part of Mac OS 10.7. [3. With support for old school text chat.] It will allow those without an iPhone 4 to enjoy a FaceTime call with those who have one. Just consider the huge number of machines Apple has shipped with iSight cameras built in. To implement it, Apple can expand upon the video conferencing features that are already a part of iChat.

FaceTime for iPod touch

This is a logical evolution of the touch and I expect to see a demo at Apple’s September 1 press event. The addition of a front-facing camera should necessitate a redesign of the super-thin touch to accommodate the hardware. It will be interesting to see if Apple goes with a flat back and, if so, what it will be made of. As the guys pointed out in The Bro Show, there’s no need for a wrap-around antenna as the touch is Wi-Fi only.

The iPod nano is capable of video, but FaceTime will be restricted to the touch. The nano has long been the best-selling iPod model (as the mini was before it), and the low price is primarily responsible. Plus the screen is too small and adding the camera and Wi-Fi hardware would necessitate a redesign that would turn it essentially into a touch.

FaceTime for iPad

Here’s something that many people are looking forward to, myself included. However, I don’t expect to see it this year. Look for an announcement in January.


You can blame this restriction on AT&T, but I think they’ll soon make this available. Now that the unlimited data plan no longer exists, [4. Except for those who were grandfathered in on plans from 1st-generation iPhones.] data-hungry customers switch from being a network-taxing hindrance to a new cost center. Do you plan on making lots of FaceTime calls? Then opt for the higher-priced data plan.

The main problem with FaceTime right now, aside from requiring Wi-Fi, is that both parties must have an iPhone 4 to participate. By significantly expanding the pool of participants, Apple will finally bring the “Jetsons phone” to the masses.

Apple to drop 10% restocking fee on iPhone 4 returns [Updated]

Computerworld reports that Apple has dropped the 10% restocking fee on iPhone 4 returns in an attempt to mollify customers frustrated by the signal issue.

If Apple is right, and the problem is that the iPhone is reporting a stronger signal than it actually has, the forthcoming patch won’t “fix” the issue, but more accurately let users know when their signal is critically low. Expect additional moaning and complaining.

Update: I’ve been asked by email to explain “…moaning and complaining.” The moaning and complaining will be justified; I apologize if that came off as snarky. As it is now, the iPhone is incapable of reliably performing its main function for many users. What’s unknown is exactly why.

Those in areas with a strong signal will be the least affected, as a drop from 5 bars to 3 is tolerable. However, dropping from 3 to 0 isn’t. So where’s the problem? Is AT&T’s network spotty in too many locations, or is the iPhone’s antenna especially poor at maintaining a strong connection?

More on this later today.

Apple explains iPhone 4 antenna issue

Apple issued a press release today explaining the reception trouble that many users have experienced. In short, the iPhone is erroneously reporting signal strength:

“Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.”

In other words, when users saw their iPhone’s signal drop from 5 bars to 2, they were in fact dropping from 2 bars to zero. Apple’s only crime here was unknowingly exaggerating the strength of AT&T’s signal.

Apple will release a software fix “…within a few weeks” for the iPhone 4, 3Gs and 3G (Apple determined that issue has always existed on the iPhone) that utilizes AT&T’s modern formula for representing signal strength with those infamous bars.

This means that the worst case scenario — a hardware flaw — has been avoided. It also means that Jobs was right when he said, “There is no reception issue.” The reception is fine. The graphic representation of that reception has been wrong.

Finally, users like David Pogue who couldn’t reproduce the drop  (the majority of users, actually) are most likely in areas with strong coverage, where a drop from 5 bars to 4 or 3 isn’t significant. In fact, NYC (where David lives) recently received a major upgrade from AT&T. Good on Apple for the research and timely reply. If proven effective this fix should put an end to the lawsuits. In other words…

Blame AT&T.

Poll results: You’re still buying

When the iPhone 4 went on sale in the US on June 24th, AT&T announced that its stores would have no stock for walk-in customers until June 29th. In the meantime, the antenna issue was widely reported.

Steve Jobs claims that “there is no reception issue,” but I agree with Jason Snell. If this is a hardware problem, and it could be, it’s “…a disaster.”

I won’t buy until that’s been determined. Surely I’m not the only one. Yesterday I asked you: “Has the iPhone 4 antenna issue affected  your decision to buy?” The results surprised me.

  • Out of the 270 who responded, 79.2% (214) answered “No.”
  • The remaining 20.7% (56) answered “Yes.”

Why the huge discrepancy? Perhaps people believe Apple will fix the issue, or believe it won’t happen to their iPhone. In any case, my readers weren’t alone, as customers lined up at AT&T stores today for another shot at buying the flawed phone.