Video conferencing is not exactly something new to mobile devices. In fact, when 3G was first introduced to GSM networks, video-calling was the most-touted feature. Sadly, devices like the Nokia N90 and even the cheap LG KU250 “3G for all” did not end up popularizing video calling. While carriers theoretically supported video-conferencing through 3G networks, this was a poorly-marketed effort that was ahead of its time.
Fast forward to the era of smartphones, tablet computers and fourth-generation technologies. Today’s IP-based communication can more easily carry video calls with ease. iOS users have it easy, because FaceTime is built right into the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Macs. Higher-resolution FaceTime cameras ensure smooth video conferencing, which is especially enjoyable at fast connections.
Android users might not be so lucky in terms of built-in offerings, because video conferencing support will be device-dependent (read: if the device has a front-facing camera and if the specs can handle video calls). Still, video conferencing on capable devices can be a breeze if you have the right apps. What’s best is that most apps that work well with Android are also cross-platform, so users can easily chat with other mobile or desktop users even on different platforms.
Here are our top choices.
Google Hangouts is, of course, the default chat app on Android devices, although it does not come pre-installed on all Android phones and tablets. In fact, its predecessor, Google Talk, did not necessarily come with support on all ROMs. But Hangouts is an evolving product that actually combines various Google chat and communication efforts, including Talk, Google+ Messenger and Google+ Hangouts.
Google Hangouts works with up to 10 users in a video-conference, and the app has a high threshold for poor connectivity, so you can count on your Hangout still working even if you have a slow or choppy connection (quality will automatically adjust). Google Hangouts is also more flexible than your usual chat and video-conferencing app, because it is now integrated with Google Voice. You can call regular telephone lines and have them as part of your conversation.
Google Hangouts is also cross-platform, and there are native apps on both Android and iOS, plus a web version that runs on Google Chrome. While the app does have the occasional bug (which might cause you to miss calls), Google is constantly improving its Hangouts network and application.
Yet another free app, Tango has been around for at least half a decade, starting out as a calling service. The app is also a cross-platform offering, and works across Android, iOS and desktop. The app primarily offers voice calling, as opposed to Google Hangouts, which focuses primarily on chat and video calls. Plus, users can exchange text messages and switch to video conference when a virtual face-to-face is the better mode of communication.
Tango has also recently launched itself as a platform for distributing games and content — a strategy that a lot of chat apps have taken themselves to doing, such as LINE, Kakao Talk and WeChat. Premium content is profitable, after all, and IM networks are earning tens of millions of dollars per year on stickers alone!
Perhaps the gold standard in video conferencing and voice calls, Skype offers secure messaging for free, and supports voice calls, instant messaging and video calls across platforms. Versions for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and various desktop platforms exist (the app is now owned by Microsoft, after all). Skype also has offerings for both consumer and enterprise customers, which means businesses are also using Skype for mission critical communications.
Skype’s basic service is free, although users can also pay for premium services like outbound calls to regular telephones, an inbound telephone number, and the like. One disadvantage, however, is that Skype users more resources than other apps because of its distributed processing platform. Skype essentially uses each connected device by taking idle CPU time and using it to process data.
Still, it’s a good app to have if you want a reliable chat and video conferencing app on Android. Skype is a free download on Google Play and other platforms.
ooVoo is another free, cross-platform video-conferencing app popular among Android users. The developers promise the best video quality even on low bandwidth situations, and users can video-conference with up to 12 people in a group. Being cross-platform, the app has variants for iOS, Android and desktop computers. The Android version itself supports at least 300 devices (which is a good thing, considering fragmentation and differences in device capabilities).
ooVoo even has a feature highly popular in photo apps today: filters. Users can set up filters during a video conference, to add some effects to their video stream. Get ooVoo now from Google Play.
Video is not exactly a mainstream usage scenario for these apps, because most users would rather send an instant message or call, which is usually simpler. But the fact that devices are now more capable of handling video calls with their built-in hardware makes this functionality more accessible. Now, video conferencing no longer requires expensive equipment meant for the corporate setting. Any smartphone, tablet or notebook computer will do.
But going beyond consumer-grade video chats and conferencing, the enterprise video conferencing industry is set to grow to a $1.1 billion dollar industry for “immersive” video chatting applications in three years’ time. The entire video-conferencing industry is set to grow to $3.8 billion by that time. Interestingly, three quarters of small businesses believe that in three years, video-conferencing will be the default means of communication on mobile and desktop devices. Will that mean goodbye to voice calls?