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

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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 currently 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 Inc. executives last week strongly suggested that Wi-Fi support will be added to Flip videocameras before Christmas. Cisco also said it supports interoperability with FaceTime software.

Apple Inc. 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 million units in the first three days after it became available on June 24.

Reports that the next Touch will include a forward-facing camera come from AppleInsider and other sources, which refer to photographs of iPod Touch parts from device parts sellers, such as Jack Telecom Co., that have appeared on Alibaba.com. The photos clearly show a hole above the screen that could accommodate a front-facing camera that could be used for video chats, several analysts have noted.

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

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, said in an interview that it's "reasonable" to think that the next iPod Touch would have a front-facing camera and FaceTime software, partly because Apple has repeatedly followed its iPhone releases with new versions of the iPod Touch that include new features that were introduced in the iPhone. The new iPod Touches usually appear two months or so after an iPhone release. That would put the next 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 that such capabilities will be as popular as the vendors think. "I'm not sure [video chat is] 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. It could be fine once in a while, he said, but people might not feel comfortable using it as a regular means of 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 addition of FaceTime to the Touch would be an attempt to woo younger consumers, who have been the primary buyers of the Apple devices.

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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