Why Is Apple Crazy About FaceTime Video Calling?

When Steve Jobs unveiled the FaceTime video calling during the WWDC 2010 event back in June this year, I did not anticipate the airtime that this nifty feature would garner moving forward. Yes, it was an interesting way to communicate between two iPhone 4 users and in all probability, the device could also make it to the iPod Touch when it had a front-facing camera. Back then, the feeling was that Apple brought in this feature simply to offer a reason for a group of friends to all go for the same iDevice – so they could all FaceTime with each other. Anyway, the feature works only Wi-Fi and so it should not find too much of a traction anyway.

But going by the way things seem to be panned out, it looks like Apple may have grander plans for this video calling feature. FaceTime is already making to the next generation iPod Touch and if recent speculations are anything to go by, an iPad with a camera is pretty certain and FaceTime is then very much likely on the iPad. This much was already known – Apple would definitely be looking to integrate the feature on all its iDevices.

But in recent times, there are also rumors about Apple developing a FaceTime client for Mac and Windows. Mac users will see this being integrated with iChat though we are still wondering how it would be available for Windows users. To be fair, all this is total speculation and based on hear-say and so there really is no proof to back up the claims that Apple is actually looking to bring FaceTime to these non-iOS devices.

Speculation, it is. But unlikely, it is not. Steve Jobs has noted on more than one occasion about FaceTime being based on open standards and that he would like to bring this functionality to other devices as well – non-Apple ones.

If you have been following Apple for any significant length of time, you will find this all to be slightly weird. FaceTime is a free application. In all probability, the application will also be made available for free when it comes to Mac and Windows. And it’s weird because Apple has never pushed a product so aggressively when it does not make money directly. Apple is no Google.

So what is it about FaceTime that makes Apple pursue it so aggressively? Looking through Apple’s moves in the past one year, it is clear that Cupertino sees Google as a sworn enemy. The counter may also be true. Beginning with the mobile OS platform, Apple and Google today compete against each other in so many areas – smartphones, ad networks, tablets, set top box, music. You name it.

So where does FaceTime video calling fit into the entire scheme of things? Looking into the Google files, it is pretty apparent. Mountain View has long been offering its Voice service. The offering got bigger recently with the launch of the voice calling feature that was integrated with Gmail. Google today offers free voice calls to USA and Canada with pretty cheap international calls. The service is expected to be made available outside the United States in the coming months.

Is FaceTime Apple’s counter to Google’s Voice call feature? In the present form though, FaceTime is nothing but a fancy video calling functionality. But this can be expanded over time to bring in voice-calling. By launching FaceTime over Windows and Mac, Apple could clearly be expanding its base since the company could connect to non-Apple users for the first time ever. It’s a free application that only requires an email ID to sign up. The popularity could clearly soar. And bring in the ability to voice-call from any internet connected device – Apple would be able to jump into the center of the VoIP business from nowhere.

Looks ambitious from where we are now. But I wonder if all the development and negotiations are already happening at Cupertino. What do you think?