Last week, Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 4 with FaceTime video calling capabilities brought the videophone back to the forefront of the media’s attention. Steve Jobs’ keynote made it sound like FaceTime will bring video phone calls to consumers for the first time. But the idea of a two-way communications device that transmits pictures as well as sound is as old as the phone itself.
Economic factors have kept it out of the average consumer’s reach until the last few decades, and the public has repeatedly greeted the concept–in stand-alone form, at least–with apathy. Still, inventors and dreamers keep coming back to the notion that the videophone is the way of the future.
Let’s take a stroll through videophone history to find out where things went wrong–and right–and how we got to the iPhone 4 and its rivals.