Way back before it introduced the iPhone and many times since, multiple reports have earnestly explained that the future for Apple in the mobile space involves it becoming what's known as a "Mobile Virtual Network Operator" (MVNO).
Apple's steadily emerging video calling technology, FaceTime, shows the company has a vision beyond even this. Apple understands that the future of disruptive innovation extends as far as ownership of the network itself.
Services like iChat Google Voice, Gmail or products like the Mac, PC or iPhone reflect one side of this equation; continued discussions with network operators concerning net neutrality -- or Google's much-criticized abandonment of that concept -- these reflect another side of the debate.
Apple gets the importance of the network, and while services such as Ping or MobileMe show social networking isn't Apple's strength, the company's future-focused move to include dead simple Internet support in the original iMac shows it has a strong sense that the network is the hub of future computing.
Speculation at Apple's future plans for iTunes and other application services in the cloud also reflect the growing importance of the network. Apple's existing East and West Coast data centers also reflect this. The network isn't just the activity at either end of the network, it is the connection itself. We're taking a step into the clouds.
Apple is moving to become its own network, harnessing the power of the Internet. Apple's FaceTime is part of this move.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs promised the video calling service would be on tens of millions of FaceTime devices this year, and while that may seem a long haul, even given the six million iOS devices Apple is selling each and every month, this is going to happen.
FaceTime lets you call other FaceTime users for free. All you need is for them to be on a compatible device and in your contacts book.
No set-up is required to use FaceTime as it only requires a persons phone number. One can switch from a regular phone call to a FaceTime call by tapping the FaceTime button on the call screen.
Apple has developed FaceTime to be robust with little bandwidth requirements, it offers something much, much better than the video calling we've seen before. It can even be used with in-flight WiFi services and from behind firewalls (below).
Further, French Mac website, Mac4Ever claims Apple will introduce FaceTime support within future Macs, with the release of an updated version of iChat.
This will make it possible for Mac users to talk for free to any FaceTime-equipped device worldwide, using WiFi.
The company is also expected to introduce a camera-equipped iPad with FaceTime support by Christmas.
Could this perhaps be the 7-inch iPad we've been expecting, sold as a communication device? Perhaps it will ship with a selection of creative apps as standard?
Jobs intends introducing FaceTime deals with the carriers next year. Jobs has also previously said Apple intends releasing its video-calling technology as a standard. This means it is only a question of time until we see the debut of:
- FaceTime for Android mobiles
- FaceTime for Windows
- FaceTime for Nokia
- FaceTime for BlackBerry
With a double-dip recession almost sure to grip us in its grasp, I can't help but think FaceTime will become exceedingly popular exceedingly fast. We'll migrate to using it instead of making conventional calls.
Next year when we get the chance to make these calls using 3G, we'll see another surge in FaceTime use.
Ultimately the carrier networks will wake up to discover they have become nothing more than mobile ISP's charged with keeping the network alive.
This means the future battle for dominance in technology shall inevitably move away from a focus on software, computers and services into a new zone, ownership of the network itself.
It will be no surprise to see a wave of consolidation hit the carriers. and it is equally possible firms such as Apple or Google may choose to acquire some of these.
That's the times we are a facing with FaceTime.