Internet Video chat software from companies such as Skype, Google, and Yahoo has made connecting face to face by computer almost commonplace. But you don't have to be at a computer anymore to have a video chat with family and friends. Mobile phone applications are making the "video phone" of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey a reality.
The launch of Apple's iPhone 4 has fueled demand for video chat apps for smartphone. Apple's Facetime application only works between two iPhone 4 users, and only over a WiFi Internet connection, so it's fallen to other app providers to serve the rest of the smartphone-using public.
Thanks to a new free app, you don't have to have an iPhone 4 to have live video chats with friends from wherever you are—and you don't have to be near a WiFi hotspot. Tango, a brand new application for the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and a collection of phones based on Google's Android software, allows users to stream live video and audio to each other from anywhere in the world where there's a 3G wireless connection, without using cell phone calling minutes.
I recently downloaded Tango to give it a try. The app is easy to set up—it asks for your name, cell number and email address to register you, and any of the people on your phone's contact list that already have Tango will automatically show up in your Tango contact list. You can send Tango invites to the rest to get them to install the app on their phones.
Once I convinced my wife to install the app on her new iPhone 4, I sent her a call request from my iPhone 3GS over 3G wireless. It took a few minutes for Tango to initially match us up, but after that calls went through quickly. The quality of the video was good, considering it was all over AT&T's 3G wireless network, and the video was degraded a little bit by Tango to be able to make that trip.
If you have a phone with a front and back camera, like the iPhone 4, you can switch the video you send from one to the other, so you can share what you see around you live with the person you're calling. If you've just got the camera on the back of the phone, that's pretty much your only option—since the 3GS lacks a front-facing camera, I had to point the back of the phone at myself and face a mirror in order to have the full Facetime-like chat experience.
You also have the option of turning off video and just having a voice call over the data connection.
The amazing part of this all is that the app and the service are free—Tango is trying to get as many people to use the service as possible. And that's made Tango one of the most popular apps on Apple's iTunes store, with over a million downloads in the first 10 days it was available for the iPhone.
Of course, you can't video chat with a person at a computer with Tango. But who needs a computer anymore, anyway?