FaceTime? Try Rehashed Pea Salad

by Chris Seibold Jun 10, 2010

Imagine that you hate peas. It shouldn't be a difficult exercise, the green balls of mush smell like a towel return outside a sauna devoted to those suffering from gangrene and taste even worse.

As repulsive as peas are, some people apparently like them. Any pea hater will tell you that they are constantly faced with conversion attempts. Attempts to make them realize their pea-hating ways are in error. The pea hater will be eating at someone else's home and admit to loathing the spitball of the vegetable world and become immediately embroiled in a pea conversion tête-à-tête. They'll get the classic "Oh, but you'll love my peas!" As though there is something magical that a particular cook could do to peas to make them palatable. Still, the cook ardently believes that their added dash of salt or pat of butter will make the peas irresistible. The truth is that Wolfgang Puck could pour caramel syrup over the things and serve them on solid gold toothpicks and it wouldn't make peas anymore palatable.

So why does anyone eat peas? Peas seem like the perfect food, they seem like something everyone should like. One imagines peas have nutrients, fiber and other stuff your body needs. But the real draw of peas is that they are easy to make. Crack open a can or a bag of frozen peas and you have an almost instant healthy side dish, right?


With Monday's introduction of the iPhone there was a lot to like but one of the big selling points was just another can of peas. The great stuff about the new iPhone is easy to tick off: better battery life, better camera, HD video recording, a flash for those low light situations, the wrap around antennae and so forth. The thing Apple was pushing the hardest was FaceTime and it's something you've had before and didn't like. Like the peas Apple seems to think you'll finally like it this time, but you won't.

FaceTime is video calling. You are familiar with this concept because people have been fantasizing about it since Alexander Graham Bell said: "Mr. Watson come here. I need you." It seems like a great idea, what if you could talk to someone and actually see them at the same time! Hit the bricks George Jetson, Apple's caught up with you and it is only 2010.

The truth is Apple had already caught George Jetson back in 2003. That's when the company introduced iChat AV. You remember the big deal Apple made about actually being able to see the person you were chatting with, listening to the company you would've imagined that chatting over iSights was the next huge revolution coming to the world of computing.

Then things got a little weird. It turns out people didn't really want to look at each other when they were chatting. Chatting was something you did in the background while you were doing something else. Face to face chatting, while it seems natural when you are out and about, doesn't feel so great when you're parked in front of your Mac. Everyone tried it out and no one stuck with it. You'll note that while you've tried peas, we all have an experimental phase after all, you've likely never ordered peas in a restaurant. That was iChat AV. It seems great conceptually but it is mostly useless in practice.

Saying no one liked it isn't quite right. Apple loved the concept. The company stuck with it and with iChat 3 Apple introduced the visual conference call concept. Four folks could chat away looking at each other's smiling, though badly lit, faces. Expecting conference video calling to go over huge when video chatting is stalled is a lot like expecting a pea hater to love your peas because you've cooked four cans instead of two.

At this point people are going to be complaining that people actually love video chatting. You'll hear about the person who uses iChat to watch his son grow up while he was stationed at the North Pole, or about innovative uses for video chatting on the Mac. Which is great, some people do manage to do interesting stuff with iChat video chatting. On the other hand, my kid stuffed peas up his nose when he was little, but that doesn't mean stuffing peas up your nose is a revolutionary way of pea eating.

Which brings us back to FaceTime. If iChat didn't rule the world, if the phone companies never got video phones off the ground, why does Apple think that FaceTime is a revolution on the iPhone? Before that question is answered, a look at the current trends in telephonic communication is required. The easiest way for most of us to get a reply, a question answered, isn't with a phone call. It is with a text. A text limits the amount of time and effort you have to spend interacting with someone and it makes everything simpler. Humans, being essentially lazy creatures, prefer the 20 seconds it takes to text over a fifteen minute phone call. The concept of a video call is even more troubling. You don't just have to worry about getting involved in an actual conversation, you have to worry about how you look and what you are revealing.

When FaceTime so clearly goes against the trend, why is Apple pushing it? Is Apple certain that people will finally love its peas? Not likely. Apple is pushing FaceTime not because everyone in the world will be using an iPhone 4 on Wi Fi and be able to take advantage of FaceTime. Apple isn't pushing FaceTime because someday the carriers will get onboard and video calling will be the standard way to make a call. Apple is pushing FaceTime because it seems like something you should want, like peas.

FaceTime is a perfect marketing decision. You can imagine yourself using it; you can imagine the situations where you'd actually kill someone to have it, and that is the kind of thing that moves phones out the door. Apple knows you won't really use FaceTime more than once or twice, but the company also knows that promising that you'll like this version of pea salad will draw you in and put a fourth generation iPhone in your pocket. Don't expect FaceTime to be a communication revolution, that method of communication has been tried and proven marginal over and over, and this time will be no different.



  • ha ha, another hilarious yet insightful one (typical Chris, I would say).

    Really enjoyed your analogy, although I actually like peas.  grin  (But I used to hate them, so I understand… Who knows? Maybe you’ll come to enjoy video calls one day.)

    I agree, FaceTime is more about giving the customers “justification” for a new handset, rather than about its actual usefulness. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to have the capability if/when you actually need/want it, I guess?

    haapum had this to say on Jun 10, 2010 Posts: 7
  • First of all, a lot more people use iChat AV than you might imagine. I’m certainly it’s not a majority of users, but it’s very helpful in certain situations. I live 13 hours from my parents so we use it regularly. I know a number of folks who have family members out of the country who use either iChat AV or Skype to see each other when they talk at least once a week.

    Really, I think the whole peas analogy is a bad one. Sushi might be a better example. Not everyone eats sushi, but those who do think it’s great.

    Moreover, akin to selling refrigerators to eskimos as the old saying goes, Apple has just announced the first phone that deaf people might actually buy. A video camera will change things for a lot of people.

    Again not everyone’s going to use it. Maybe you won’t use this feature. But it’s a wonder feature for those who want it and need it.

    It’s certainly better than a can of peas.

    R. Mansfield had this to say on Jun 10, 2010 Posts: 11
  • I dont think Face Time is for general calling. It’s aimed at families. I spend ages on Skype Video with my parents and grandparents and they love seeing my kids. But video Skype is tied to my PC at home. My wife and I have iPhones. My parents would get them simply to see my kids anywhere, any time. I for one will probably upgrade both my and my wife’s phone for this reason alone. Look at Apple’s promo video for FaceTime and that’s exactly where it’s aimed. This is not about trying to migrate voice calls to video calls at all.

    psimondo had this to say on Jun 10, 2010 Posts: 1
  • Ha! Cute!

    But illogical.

    We spent a half hour with my daughter trying to get some friend’s Skype working while she was traveling in the Mideast last year. Could see her; could type; no audio. We’re all pretty tech savvy. (Unfortunately, her friend with the older HP was not.)

    What’s going to make the iPhone experience better? (1) The iPhone is all about calling to people when they are NOT sitting at a computer desk paying bills or doing email, and (2) Apple has made it as easy as pushing a button (if you can do it at all).

    If you don’t think that’s a game-changer, you’re not seeing the potential for customer-focused solutions instead of tech check-lists.

    WaltFrench had this to say on Jun 10, 2010 Posts: 5
  • Walt is right.  If Facetime is pea salad, then what is Skype? Lima beans?  People all over the world have been using video chat over their 3G networks for years.  I know because I bought a Sony Ericcson V800 more than 5 years ago which had a camera that swiveled from front to back (it was a flip phone), and it had several LEDs that would light up a dark environment.  It came from Spain, I think.  It had a big Vodafone logo on it and I just popped by AT&T;sim in it and started using it.  Of course I couldn’t do video calls, but the tech was there. 

    You act like nobody will seriously use this feature.  Just like nobody was going to use USB until Apple made it standard and killed all the other ports on their computers.

    Remember, Apple skates to where the puck is going, not to where it is. Just like Gretsky.

    hammeroftruth had this to say on Jun 10, 2010 Posts: 4
  • Peas aren’t any easier to cook than any other vegetable.  We don’t eat them because they’re easy, we eat them because we like them.

    People assume that there’s no way people are telling the truth when we like products that they don’t like.  There are people who actually prefer Windows too, without having an ulterior motive.

    Howard Brazee had this to say on Jun 10, 2010 Posts: 54
  • “Remember, Apple skates to where the puck is going, not to where it is.”

    Chris’s point is that they’re skating to where the puck was five years ago.  Video chat is not new, neither is video phone chat.

    Ironically, the future is not MORE visual/voice, it’s less.  People LOVE texting.  That’s the immediate future trend.  More and more texting, IM, simple short little quips on the go.  Not video.

    That said, it’s a neat feature that’s free on the phone.  But I agree that it’s probably not going to be that utilized.  The few people who use it will undoubtedly love it, but the rest will be texting.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 10, 2010 Posts: 2220
  • A few points here:
    @haapum Thanks

    @R. Mansfield There’s no arguing that some people use iChat AV to the fullest. But if you watch the iPhone video you’d think that video calls are revolutionary. And for those who need it will be fantastic. Well, as long as they two 4g iphones and wifi.

    @pismondo you’re right, it won’t be taking the place of regular calls.

    @walt french I see you’re in the “you’ll like my peas” camp. It doesn’t matter how easy it is, how seamless it is, people don’t want video calling. they might be attracted to the idea but the reality isn’t nearly as appealing. If you call in sick to work you don’t want the boss to see the lapping waves on the beach when you’re talking to her.

    @howard brazee As much as it pains me to admit there are people who enjoy the membrane encapsulated balls of green pus. Even canned ones. I do all the cooking in this house and my wife and kid love peas. They freakin’ high five me when I make them every six months.

    @beeb exactly

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Jun 10, 2010 Posts: 354
  • @Chris, I’m in the wrong demo to be a big user myself. I just happen to think it’ll be popular in the 15-35 year-old set.

    But it’s true: I LOVE almost any veggie when it’s cooked well. Not that no meat need apply, but the spinach tonight w/ my Ling cod helped make the dish. And my wife had the cauliflower with morels & an egg. Heaven!

    WaltFrench had this to say on Jun 11, 2010 Posts: 5
  • @Chris, it’s too early to know if Facetime is revolutionary, but by comparing the functionality to a food you don’t like, you’re simply selling it way too short. Your comparison applies mostly to you because you don’t like peas (or iChat AV. Good hyperbole connects with a general audience. Your comparison does not.

    Call it whatever you want, but Apple is releasing the first mainstream phone that features video calling, even if done by wifi initially, I believe that fact cannot be so easily snubbed. AT&T;promised this functionality four and a half decades ago. If not for Apple, that promise would still be unfulfilled.

    R. Mansfield had this to say on Jun 11, 2010 Posts: 11
  • I don’t hate iChat AV, I use it all the time. Especially for troubleshooting other folks computers, there is nothing better than screen sharing for that.

    FaceTime is nifty but it won’t be a revolution because the underlying desire to make video calls just isn’t there, too much trouble. iChat AV is very easy to use so one would’ve imagined everyone talking on their computer face to face. HAsn’t happened.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Jun 11, 2010 Posts: 354
  • I agree few people are talking face-to-face on their computers using iChatAV - but that’s a very Apple-centric view of the world.  The fact is, millions of people are talking face-to-face on their computers using Skype.  Why Skype and not iChatAV?  SImply because it has market momentum and “just works” on any platform.  Although iChatAV is compatible with AIM, so few people use AIM (at least in Europe) that this is irrelevant and so iChatAV only allows you to chat with the small percentage of Apple users that keep iChatAV running in the background.  In other words, a small percentage of a small percentage of the computer users in the world.  FaceTime is destined to suffer the same fate for the same reasons, *unless* all other vendors adopt the same open standards and so it becomes a guaranteed way of talking to anyone with a mobile phone.  As soon as communication systems become unreliable (either technically or due to limited adoption) people will swap to something else.

    Paul Howland had this to say on Jun 12, 2010 Posts: 38
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  • FaceTime is nifty but it won’t be a revolution because the underlying desire to make video calls just isn’t there, too much trouble blood pressure natural treatments. iChat AV is very easy to use so one would’ve imagined everyone talking on their computer face to face. HAsn’t happened.

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