In 1964 AT&T tested Picturephone. The public was invited to place calls between special exhibits at Disneyland and the New York World's Fair. It is interesting to note that for the most part AT&T and the phone companies really have not exploited this technology but with the explosion of Internet connectivity many other companies have.
Most of us have heard of Skype as it has become a generic term for all video calling. The company, now owned by Microsoft, was one of the first to offer an easy, free or inexpensive service to the masses. With a computer, webcam and internet connection, even the most digitally challenged computer user could chat with and see friends and family across town or accoss the oceans. Once the only game in town, there are now several options available that take video calling to new levels.
For those who want not only to communicate but to collaborate, a company called OOVOO.com provides a service that not only allows you to see and hear the person you are calling but to share documents, pictures, maps and anything you can display on your computer screen. So a custom home builder might be able to show his client the blue prints of the new house and, using his computer cursor, highlight various features he is discussing with them. The builder’s computer screen is displayed on the remote computer. A lawyer could highlight parts of contracts or other legal documents for his client.
OOVOO also provides the capacity to conference with 12 locations simultaneously. So if you have a big family, you can have an online reunion. All OOVOO sessions can be recorded. OOVOO has a free service that limits some of these features and has display advertisements on the screen. It also has a mobile app.
Google provides a similar service with many of the OOVOO features. The number of simultaneous participants is set at 10. The Google service has a “broadcast” feature that allows you to share the video session with an unlimited number of people although they can only watch and listen but not join in the conversation.
For those who use an iPhone or an iPad, the Apple “Facetime” app provides easy audio and video communication between any two Apple devices. Once “Facetime” required a wifi connection but now works over the cell network as well.
It has never been easier to keep track of friends and relatives living far away. The features today go well beyond the Picturephone of the 1964 World’s Fair. How long will it be before we can transport ourselves electronically? “Beam me up Scotty!”