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  5. Fring's new iPhone app: has FaceTime been trumped already?

Fring's new iPhone app: has FaceTime been trumped already?

Fring's new iPhone app: has FaceTime been trumped already?

Fring’s latest iPhone app is a bit special. Normally, getting excited about an IM aggregator is the preserve of ‘the kids’, but this update brings something special: video-calling over 3G. It’s a first for the iPhone 4, which in its short life has found itself limited to video chats over Wi-Fi using the admittedly nifty FaceTime.

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But the approval of this app is certainly telling. With it, Apple has thrown open access to its front-facing camera, meaning similar add-ons from the likes of Skype and maybe even Google can’t be that far behind. And at the same time, it’s also managed to strangely undermine FaceTime.

Those who use FaceTime have marvelled at how good it is and how it takes video calling to a new level. But the fact it’s stuck on Wi-Fi and only works between iPhone 4s is a real issue - one that’s been touched on here previously. By allowing Fring’s update, Apple has shown unusual foresight in allowing people to make video calls over 3G before its own service is able to do the same.

It also now means that FaceTime will become a white elephant, an unused extra that requires you to be shackled to a Wi-Fi hotspot or in your own home for it to work. Why use it when Fring works just as well and does so in areas of 3G coverage and with phones that aren’t just made by Cupertino?

iphone fring

Of course, Fring will have to face up to some issues. 3G video calling is notoriously ropey and remains a niche concern, although this addition will doubtless help boost its profile. And, of course, there’s a good chance that Apple is using the VoIP company as a guinea pig to see if 3G video calling on the iPhone 4 really is decent enough.

Back at WWDC, Steve Jobs said the emphasis to get FaceTime working on mobile networks was down to carriers. If Fring falls flat, then Apple can safely take its time getting FaceTime onto 3G, knowing that its offering will work better because it’s had longer to develop it.

But ultimately, Fring’s arrival does throw open the App Store to some cool new extras. A Skype app that utilises the front-facing camera on the iPhone 4 would be a winner from the get-go - thanks in no small part to is huge profile and massive user base.

However, one can’t help but feel that FaceTime is already being marginalised, a feature that doesn’t get much love and remains hamstrung by its limitations. Of course it will have its fans, but Fring’s arrival suggests video calling isn’t really as big a deal for Apple as it’s made out in the past.

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