One of the most attractive features about the Apple iPhone 4 (and now the iPod Touch as well) is the FaceTime video conferencing technology. For those that are unfamiliar with this feature, it essentially allows parties to use built-in cameras on the handsets to place real-time video calls over WiFi. However, many people argue that being limited to WiFi is a major setback of the application. But I for one believe that WiFi communications technology is truly a step in the right direction for mobile communications.

Today, T-Mobile – one of the largest mobile carriers in the country – announced that they will be introducing WiFi-based audio calling on many equipped Android handsets. In short, this feature would allow end-users to place and receive phone calls and SMS message on their handsets, using WiFi connections when a cellular signal was unavailable. These calls (both foreign and international) would be priced lower than if they were carried out on the cellular network. For people in corporate environments or locations where cellular signals are less than sufficient, this new feature could be an amazing convenience.

But we have to really step back and ask ourselves if this is really that important of an innovation. After all, T-Mobile has had this same technology available with the Nokia E73 and a handful of BlackBerry models for some time now. But with the mobile wars between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS, this could be seen as somewhat of a win for Android. Why? You see, Google’s data-based Google Voice – which offered more or less the same functionality of WiFi-based calling – was rejected from the Apple App Store last year (though rumors of it being approved under Apple’s new guidelines have been floating around), supposedly because its availability would hurt AT&T’s business. So in this sense, WiFi-based calling on the Android OS is definitely a signification of openness.

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At the same time, we really have to consider that many mobile carriers are pushing unlimited calling and texting plans (many of which are extremely reasonably priced), so WiFi-based phones really wouldn’t save that much money, especially considering that one would still need a mobile plan to take advantage of it. And while WiFi may be vastly available pretty much everywhere, the fact of the matter is that cellular technology is getting better with every passing day, ultimately meaning that there is less of a “grey area” where WiFi technology would be helpful.

At the heart of the matter, though, I think the important part about this story is the fact that WiFi-based communications technology is beginning to makes its way to the Android, meaning that Apple is potentially losing their edge; and that we may soon see FaceTime-like technology available on Android-based handsets.


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