Video calling seems to be everywhere these days. It has taken its time to get a hold within the consciousness of the public. However, now video calling is reaching the mass market. Techies hailed as the next big breakthrough in connectivity after the text message; however, it seemingly failed to deliver on that promise. Many people decided that it just wasn’t worth the extra hassle to set up a video call over that of a traditional phone call. However, all that is changing now as the technology improves and companies have now made it easier than ever to connect people using a video call. Let me take you through some of the best ways that are around enabling people to communicate via video.
Skype is the granddaddy of communication apps. Initially conceived as a voice call app, it soon adapted to incorporating video calling as well. The prevalence of Skype is partly down to the fact that Microsoft bought out the original company and migrated its MSN app to the platform. It is now standard on all Windows operating systems. Skype is widely available on several different platforms and hardware, and there are apps for all sorts of different devices. Skype call quality tends to be good, and the ease of which you can use the app means that it is accessible to most people. The only downside you’ll find is that the mobile apps were built before everyone had a smartphone, and so they can be a little clunky on some modern devices. The app quality, however; is being constantly improved with each update. Call quality is excellent, and if it drops, then a simple redial can typically fix most problems.
FaceTime is Apple’s entry into the video calling market and is a standard app on all iOS devices. The singular focus of the app means that it is easy to use and makes calls between users an absolute breeze. Call quality on the app is of a high standard as it continually looks to improve the bandwidth between callers. The only downside to FaceTime is that it is only available on iOS devices and Apple Macs. There is no web client and no platform for any other device. This means that both users must invest in the Apple infrastructure. If one of the users doesn’t own an Apple device, then there is no way that you will be able to video-call them with this app. If you know the person you want to call does have an Apple device, then you shouldn’t overlook using FaceTime as a method of video calling as it is an excellent app for the job. One other downside of FaceTime is that you are not able to group call; which is a downside for families wanting to reconnect over the holiday period. This is something that Skype does a lot better!
Spin is a recent entry to the video calling market, and as such it occupies an interesting niche. The app aims at making group calling fun. Spin supports calling up to 10 different users at the same time. Once you are in a call, you can use the touch interface to interact with different users easily. Raising the volume of an individual is as simple as making their avatar larger on your screen. You can effortlessly add effects to your video and have a lot of fun playing around. The app so far is only available for iOS devices at present and as such, has the same limitations that FaceTime has. The interface makes it easy for people to use, but this means that serious users find it a little bit gimmicky.
‘Hangouts’ is Google’s video messaging app. The software has been around for quite a while, and all Google devices include it by default. They have been slowly adding new features to the app for some time, and it now provides SMS support; however, the key element is still video calling within the app. Despite being a Google app, they have ported it to several different platforms, and this includes having an iOS app and a web presence. This means that it is much more accessible than Apple’s offering. However, setting up hangouts is a little trickier than using Skype or FaceTime. Hence, despite it offering a more extensive range of options for connecting the family, people do not use it as often. Anyone with a Google account also has a Hangouts account. However, it seems that like other Google social platforms, it has gone ignored by the public.
WhatsApp has become one of the most highly downloaded mobile messaging apps around. Features like group chats as well as the ability to make calls and video calls for free, send photos and sending documents has secured WhatsApp’s place as one of the most downloaded apps of all time. The app is so prevalent that it was purchased by Facebook back in February of 2014. WhatsApp is used in countries all over the world, and all you need to use it is a mobile number. A few mobile providers even allow users to use WhatsApp without eating into their data allowance. Making a video call with WhatsApp is very easy, and the call quality is not bad, though it all depends on the strength of the user’s mobile connection. WhatsApp adapts to the network conditions well, but you may find that if the network drops, then you will lose your call. WhatsApp is available for Android, iOS and several other platforms. The app has proven extremely popular for families who are separated by distance and is one of the most popular communication platforms throughout Asia.
Facebook is still one of the biggest social media platforms in the world, and as such, it seems like everyone on earth has a Facebook profile. Facebook Messenger is the messaging app that allows users of the platform to send each other messages, pictures, documents, and have video and voice calls with each other. While the latter function isn’t one of the most used, it is simple to work for people that already have a Facebook account. As a lot of families already have Facebook accounts, then this makes it simple for people to connect. You just message the person and hit the video call button. Call quality is excellent and adapts well to the network conditions. Facebook and hence Facebook messenger are available on nearly every platform under the sun which means that it is easy to find people to connect with and that the whole family can join in a group chat with ease.
Portal is one of the newest innovations from Facebook. This is a product range of hardware that uses the WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger networks to be able to connect people with video calls. The equipment is focused around either adding a camera to your television or buying a dedicated portal frame device. The hardware comes with built-in motion tracking and has a wide-angle camera lens. The concept is to make it as convenient and enjoyable as possible for families to connect and securing the muppets as spokespeople for the hardware is certainly going a long way to helping that. We still remain to see whether single-use technology will take off over more multi-purpose hardware like mobile phones and tablets that most people seem to have anyway. Since it runs on the WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger platforms, this means that it is limited to 4 way calling on screen at any one time, with up to 8 participants in a call at once.
‘Line’ has been around for several years and has some 300 million users worldwide. It is a hugely successful messaging app. Video calling is one of the more recent additions to the app and is available between any of its users. The picture quality is generally quite good and adapts to network conditions quickly. It is comparable with Skype or FaceTime. Line hopes that video calling will encourage more users to install the app as you are only able to call other Line users. Line has several other great messaging features such as stickers and games that can be used between Line users, so it hopes that this will differentiate it from other similar messaging apps. It also has the advantage of people using it in a few countries that traditionally ban other messaging apps such as China and nations in the Middle East. So, it is worth checking out if you have friends or family in those countries. What Line does that no other app does is allow you to see words as the user types, though in my experience this can cause problems as people like to revise their messages before they send.
WeChat, owned by Tencent, is one of the most popular and successful messaging apps in Asia and China in particular. It boasts around 270 million monthly users. It is similar to Line and offers text messaging, picture messaging and has recently included video calling as a feature between users. Video calling is limited; however, to one-on-one calling and so it might not suit everyone. However, WeChat is one of the apps allowed behind the great firewall of China. This will appeal to anyone that has relatives that live in the communist state. WeChat has its advantages; however, I have noticed that call volume is generally a little quieter than in other, similar apps. The call volume is certainly something that could do with being addressed. Picture quality is at least equal to that in other apps such as Skype and WhatsApp, so that is a bonus.
Viber is another standard messaging app that blends a few features from several other niche apps. There are groups available like on WhatsApp, and they even have a few ‘chat rooms’ available if you want to connect with other like-minded users. You can send stickers to other users and play games with them as well. Of course, video calling is available, and the call quality is not bad at all. You can make group calls with ease as well. Viber is a comprehensive app that is quite widely used and is available on a vast number of platforms, which makes it an easy app to connect with other people and family members. Viber does feature advertising though, and a push to make you pay for various stickers and other add-ons to the app. If you don’t like adverts invading your digital space, then Viber might not be for you.
Fring is a messaging app that has been around for many years. Fring is, in fact, one of the oldest apps on this list. The app itself allows video calls between up to 4 different people. One advantage of Fring is that it integrates with Skype, and it will enable ‘Skype-out’ style calling to non-users of the service. This means that you can make international calls cheaply, but Skype might well be better suited for that. Fring being little-known as it means that you will typically have to get your friends and family to download the app to be able to use it. Fring has apps available for iOS and Android, as well as most mobile web platforms. What it doesn’t have, though, is a desktop application; so you will have to use your smartphone to access the app.
Video calling technology has come a long way, and it is undoubtedly more accessible than back in the day when you had to make sure that you had a webcam set up and that both parties knew what they were doing. As families have become more geographically diverse, video calling has become an increasingly useful way to make sure that you don’t lose touch. This can be even truer when the family grows, and you want to put the kids onto video so they can ‘e-meet’ their relatives. The ease and accessibility of video calling mean that people now use it for so much more. Video calling allows you to get quick and easy advice from friends and relatives whilst being able to show them the problem and see a friendly face. Video calling is here to stay.