FaceTime video chat may be added to next-gen iPod Touch

Jobs' boast of 'tens of millions' of FaceTime devices shipped in 2010 could come to pass

Evidence is mounting that there's more FaceTime video chat coming in handheld devices, with reports surfacing today that the next iPod Touch, due this year, will include a front-facing camera.

The iPhone 4 is the only device that runs on FaceTime over Wi-Fi. Recent models of the iPod Touch already have Wi-Fi wireless capability.

In addition, Cisco Systems executives last week strongly suggested that the Flip videocamera will have Wi-Fi added before Christmas. Cisco also said it supports interoperability with FaceTime software.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is keen on FaceTime and vowed in early June that Apple will make FaceTime video an open industry standard . He also boasted that Apple will ship tens of millions of FaceTime-connected devices by the end of 2010. While observers have said the "tens of millions" number might be hard to reach, Apple's chances would be improved by having FaceTime on the popular Touch media player as well as the iPhone 4, which sold 1.7 milion units in the first three days that it was available June 24.

Reports of the next Touch's including a forward-facing camera come from AppleInsider and others, which refer to photographs of iPod Touch parts from device parts sellers such as Jack Telecom Co. appearing on Alibaba.com. The photos clearly show a hole above the screen, which would likely be used for a front-facing camera for running video chat, several analysts have noted.

Also according to various reports, U.K.-based retailer John Lewis has said the Touch would have FaceTime and a 5-megapixel camera lens with flash and the ability to upload high-definition video at 720p.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, said in an interview that it's "reasonable" to think that the next iPod Touch would have the front-facing camera and FaceTime software, partly because Apple has repeatedly followed its iPhone releases with similar new features in its next-generation iPod Touch. The new features usually appear two months or so after an iPhone release. That would put the iPod Touch release sometime in late August.

While Enderle said there is clearly a major push at Apple and Cisco for technology related to video and videoconferencing, especially on mobile devices, he and other analysts have said they aren't convinced it will be as popular as the vendors think. "I'm not sure [video chat's] going to be that big," Enderle said, adding that his opinion is partly based on his experience testing video phones in development at Apple in the 1980s. Part of his concern is how people will adapt to a technology that shows a user's face, which will be fine for a few tries, but will be harder for workers communicating with colleagues and bosses.

"It is fine technology for showing where you are located to somebody else, but not for showing your face," he said.

A person's appearance over video chat won't be as much of a problem for young users, Enderle said. "There's no question [manufacturers] are hoping to attract a younger audience," he said.

The appearance of FaceTime on the Touch would be an attempt to capture that younger audience, which has been the primary buyer of the device.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

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Tags telecommunicationMobile and WirelessMobile Apps and ServicesNetworkingwirelessiPhonePhonesmobilewireless networkingAppleapple iphoneconsumer electronicsVideo Conferencingsmartphonesiphone 4Macintosh

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)
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