A few months back, Apple CEO Tim Cook and his band of renowns took to the stage at the George Moscone Center to announce a bevy of new things, including iOS 6, which promised … finally … to offer Facetime over 3G. That means the fantasy that TV shows like Fringe showed of people video chatting in the wild would soon become a reality (forget about Skype for a moment). But pop those virtual champagne corks just yet. A leaked screen shot of an AT&T iPhone hints that the Death Star Network may be charging extra for the privilege.
We’re working closely with Apple on the new developer build of iOS6 and we’ll share more information with our customers as it becomes available. – AT&T Statement
So what does it all mean? Sure, AT&T, being the wireless carrier provider can decide to charge extra for the video traffic if they choose. When Apple enabled the hotspot feature on the iPhone with iOS 4.3, AT&T wasted no time in announcing a an extra monthly fee of $20 a month for the priviledge, and added that it would apply against your data caps. And to make matters worse, those who had a grandfathered unlimited data plan, would be forced to give it up in favor of a capped Data Plus plan in order to have hotspot enabled.
Apple is already on record as saying that using Facetime over 3G will likely be applied against users minutes AND data caps. So charging an extra monthly fee to Facetime 3G is dipping into user wallets a THIRD time from what we can tell. And that’s not cool. Are there options if users want to video chat in the wild and avoid AT&T nickle and diming them to death? Absolutely:
1. Skype – Skype’s app already uses 3G to do video chat. Users can make free skype to skype video chat calls, and not worry about AT&T picking their pocket. And if users have Skype, it really doesn’t matter what phone they use, Android or iOS
2. Oovoo – ooVoo has been called the best is the best multi-platform video calling solution by PC Magazine. That means like Skype above, users can video chat from Android to iPhone and not run into any closed issues. And even better, you can have multiple group chats (up to 6, IIRC). Additionally, it uses 3G, so you don’t have to be chained to a WiFi signal to video chat. Not as easy as Apple’s one touch infrastructure that incorporates Facetime into contacts, but it avoid AT&T’s interference.
3. Fring – Called the “must have video chat app” by Cult of Mac, Fring was the first to offer video chat over 3G with the iPhone 3GS (but since there was no forward facing camera in the 3GS, it didn’t catch on until the iPhone 4 in 2010). Fring also gives users the ability to not only chat within the Fring network, but also to users of Skype. That’s pretty cool.
4. Tango – Tango was the first video chat app to incorporate user contacts in a very Facetime like convenience. Tango also works pretty well over 3G and can chat cross platform.
5. VTok – VTok turns Google’s video chat and hangout feature into a usable Facetime like app. There is no separate account signup, as users just log into their Google account. Works over both 3G and WiFi and is provides free unlimited phone calls and SMS messages using Google Voice (for US users with Google Voice™ accounts only.)
Other options? Well, Yahoo Messenger has a video chat feature, but I’m hesitant to recommend it because their services are so damned pervasive. And every time I log into a Yahoo mail account, I’m harassed by spammers seeks to say hi to me via Yahoo Messenger. Imagine what would happen with a video chat app? Google’s Google+ app can participate in Hangouts, but they have yet allowed initiating of hangouts over 3G.
The only other viable option is to jailbreak your iPhone and use Facetime over 3G while you can. That’s been available since 2010 via an app called My3G, and makes your iPhone believe it is on Wi-Fi even when it’s using 3G. But enjoy it while you can, you can bet that the Death Star will be looking at your activity once they get their act together with Facetime and demand their pound of flesh.
Now the downside of all these solutions is that users will take a hit against their data caps. But according to PC World it isn’t as bad as one would imagine. Their tests revealed that users can get 20 minutes’ worth of video chat calls on the 250MB plan, and just over 11 hours with the 2GB plan. Course, you can’t do anything else, but how often are you really going to video chat?
Lastly, you can just still use Facetime over WiFi. That chains you to a WiFi hotspot (and no, you can use your hotspot feature to fool AT&T, they’re onto that already), but at least it would still be free.