RIM unveils Video Chat app for PlayBook

BlackBerry PlayBook tablet owners will soon be able to put that front-facing camera to use with the upcoming Video Chat app.

The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, launched last month by RIM has been relatively successful thus far despite being almost universally slammed as being an incomplete work in progress in initial reviews. Well, one of the missing features will soon be added when the Video Chat app becomes available.

RIM announced that the Video Chat app will be available for the PlayBook tablet sometime in the next month. The press release regarding Video Chat seems targeted at consumers -- a bit uncharacteristic given that RIM's bread and butter come from business customers.

Tom Goguen, VP, Collaboration and Social Networking at Research In Motion (RIM), said, "With the BlackBerry PlayBook Video Chat application we are excited to be enabling our customers to share important moments and events with family and friends via video calls. With the BlackBerry PlayBook's high-resolution video cameras and stunning display, a Video Chat call is the next best thing to being there."

The Video Chat app will give some purpose to that 5MP front-facing camera. RIM is also including a picture-in-picture view, so you know what the person on the other end is seeing and make sure you don't have any food stuck in your teeth or something. Like Apple's FaceTime video chat, the PlayBook Video Chat app will only work over a Wi-Fi connection, not over 3G wireless.

The primary drawback of the PlayBook video chat app is the limited audience. The video chat only works with other PlayBook tablets, which severely restricts its usefulness. It will serve the purpose, though, for organizations that deploy PlayBook tablets because co-workers will be able to communicate and collaborate with one another using video chat.

In RIM's defense, Apple's FaceTime video chat was also introduced as a proprietary video chat tool that only worked iOS devices equipped with front-facing cameras, which -- at the time -- was only the iPhone 4. But, there are far more iPhone 4s out there than PlayBook tablets, and Apple has since added front-facing cameras to the iPod Touch, and the iPad tablet, and it has expanded FaceTime to work with Mac OS X computers as well. So, the potential pool for FaceTime video chat is exponentially larger even if it is limited to Apple.

RIM could have developed the PlayBook to be able to chat with all of the various Apple devices if it had chosen to. Apple created FaceTime as an open standard for video chat, and third-parties like RIM are welcome to use it.

The Video Chat app seems to have some nice features, and PlayBook owners will surely welcome a chance to put the front-facing camera to some productive use. But, I think RIM missed an opportunity by not embracing FaceTime and letting the PlayBook connect with the millions of iPhones, iPad 2s, and Macs out there.

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Tony Bradley

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