As a big movie buff, especially as a kid, I enjoyed so many of the classic 80’s movies that gave us glimpses into the future and the fantasies of what we could expect the world to be like. Of all the cool technology displayed in so many of those movies (like Back to the Future, for example), I remember being in awe of video calls. Instead of audio phone calls, everyone in “the future” communicated over video and it seemed great. Not only could you get your message across from the words you chose, you could also show body language and facial expressions. Since it’s been shown that non-verbal communication makes up over 66% of how we communicate, your long-distance conversations with video would surely be richer and, above all, more accurate. The 1989 version of myself thought this would be awesome.
Fast forward to 2016: Has video replaced audio calls? I think the answer to that question is pretty clear, it has not. Though video-calling technology has been around since the 1950s, there have been obstacles to people actually using it regularly, especially in business communications. Let’s take a look at these obstacles and discuss how they are being overcome.
Technology Available and Affordable
Though video calling has been around for 60+ years, it is only recently that it has been available to the general business community. Up until the last 5 years or so, video calls required extremely expensive equipment and calls were subject to high per-call rates from providers (if they were offered at all). On top of the cost, the systems were not easy to use and took a long time to connect, making it easier just to stick with tried and true voice calls.
However, with today’s modern VoIP phone systems like Switchvox, video calling is extremely simple and affordable. The calls themselves are treated the same way as voice calls and do not come with an extra per-call expense. The calls can be handled with the camera and microphones that are included in almost every laptop sold today. Even desktop video phones have come down in price and can be bought for well under $1000. So, from a technology standpoint, video is ready, available, and affordable.
Compatibility and Single Video Standard
Compatibility has been a major issue with video since the beginning and the issue still lingers today, both in the business world and people’s personal video conversations. The problem has stemmed from the fact that although I can place a video call to my internal employees, since we have the same system, I can’t always video call people outside the organization – namely my customers-without changing video platforms. Even with today’s video calling technology attached to UC systems, it’s extremely difficult, and impossible without additional apps and software, to make a call on my video phone to my customers and be certain they can receive it, unless they, too, have a video phone. That call cannot be received on their mobile device or computer unless I abandon my video phone all together and use a separate video service like Skype. This fact eliminates a significant portion of the demand for video, as my customer conversations would benefit most from the technology.
You can see the compatibility issue can rear its ugly head in our personal lives as well. If I’m an Apple iPhone user, I can’t video call Android users using the FaceTime feature. Skype customers can’t talk to people using Google Hangouts and so on. A single, multi-vendor video protocol would go a long way in increasing the adoption of video in all types of applications.
So what’s the answer here? The answer is WebRTC. WebRTC allows businesses to enable communications tools, like video, into their websites using only a web browser. Now, anyone from anywhere in the world can video chat without the need of a service like Skype. All you will need is your browser and someone to talk to.
People Aren’t Ready for It
Yes, I said it. As modern and progressive and social a society as we are, we are not universally ready for video calls as the preferred communications channel. Of the obstacles we’ve covered so far, this one is by far the most impactful. With today’s systems, video is available and affordable, but people don’t use it as much as they probably should.. Though non-verbal communication is key to our face-to-face conversation, video calling is just a different experience for most people. Speaking in a normal fashion while knowing that you’re talking into a camera, remembering to make eye contact, avoiding rude gestures, and making our body language reflect our words is a challenge and seems awkward.
The other facet of this is that people don’t want it. They like the bit of anonymity that comes with not being seen. People like being able to hide their body language to ensure that the message coming across the phone line is professional and courteous, even though what they really think and feel is anything but.
Those are the big three obstacles to video, but don’t fear video fans. Video call adoption is growing. The Millennials, and other generations coming into the workforce, have grown up with video as a key method of communication and do not have the same psychological hang-ups about video calls as previous generations. We already see this occurring with the adoption of video-based social media apps like Periscope and Blab that allow us to communicate via video. That increasing desire to use video from younger generations, combined with the rapidly dropping cost to deploy video communications, and the rise of WebRTC, means that video will likely be a key communications tool in the very near future.
Are you using video regularly, today? If not, what obstacle is standing in your way?