Alex Salkever posits With iChat, Who Needs a Phone? in his latest Byte of the Apple column for BusinessWeek Online. Salkever doesn’t think that iChat AV will replace the phone specifically, but talks in broad strokes about voice and video teleconferencing over the Internet in general.
Salkever waxes rhapsodic about recent offerings from Apple like the iTunes Music Store and iChat AV. iChat AV, released as a public beta during last month’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), offers video and audio teleconferencing to users with FireWire-based digital video Webcams. In fact, Apple has released its own FireWire-based Webcam called the iSight, and has been selling them briskly since iChat AV’s release, by many anecdotal accounts.
Salkever said that iChat AV “has several insanely great things going for it,” including relatively painless installation, easy operation, and good coexistence with other applications.
Salkever imagines an Internet populated by users of iChat AV and similar services chatting with each other via cordless headsets. “… it’s not so farfetched to imagine that the various IM systems from America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo!, among others, will quickly morph into major competitors against the lumbering telecoms,” Salkever said.
Think Salkever’s idea is far-fetched? He explained that some companies like Vonage are already building businesses by turning home broadband connections into telephone hookups.
“… iChat and AOL IM are already compatible. iChat users show up on the buddy lists of AOL IM users and vice versa. Give all those users an iChat-like voice capability, and all of a sudden you have a phone network with more than 350 million users,” Salkever writes.
Salkever admits that a shift from wired telephone communication to voice over IP could take years. And as far as iChat AV is concerned specifically, he added, “Although Apple is making a big splash, it remains a bit player in the grand scheme, without enough users to shift markets.”
Still, he said, Apple’s contribution as an innovator could have important ramifications in the years to come. “If past is prologue, then Jobs’s latest innovation could hasten a coming age when anyone who wants to can use their PC to bypass traditional phone services.”