It’s hard to think of a piece of technology that’s been more of a game-changer than video conferencing. Where once high-cost long distance phone bills might have prevented us from holding two hour calls with our team in Hong Kong, today we can rely on a secure internet connection to connect us to anyone, anywhere in the world.
Skype was the first service to address this need. Launched in 2003 by two Estonian developers, it enjoyed market dominance for quite some time, right up to when was acquired by Microsoft in 2011. When FaceTime was introduced in 2010 as a proprietary service to be used with iOS running on iPhone, Skype met its first main competitor.
However, the ubiquity of video conferencing means that these mega-players have lost a bit of their power. As the website Digital Trends noted, “Skype isn’t the novelty it once was. With the introduction of a host of smartphones touting front-facing cameras, a slew of tools for video chatting soon found their way to mobile devices. Many tech companies, ahem, Apple, have even gone so far as to include their own proprietary chat clients in their products. Though, like any popular service, there also exists an array of third-party offerings available on both iOS and Android.”
There are a number of factors to consider when it comes to choosing the best video conferencing service that suits your needs. While Skype has the added benefit of being the most widely-used—thus meaning that mostly anyone you need to conference with already has it downloaded—it’s not always the one that suits your functionality. FaceTime is useful for Apple users as it is fully integrated into the iPhone interface, so the experience of using it is strikingly similar to simply making a call, but this is only beneficial if everyone has an iPhone. While some video conferencing services require a phone number, others don’t, and this can be another factor beyond basic functionality that determines which service you might want to use.
If you frequently use video conferencing but haven’t investigated what options are out there other than the main players, here is a run-down:
Facebook Messenger: In Facebook’s apparent quest to be everything to everyone, it has also rolled out a video conference functionality. The upside of this is that, similar to Skype, most people use Facebook, so you’re not limited by who you can contact. The downside might be that you resent Facebook for encouraging you to use the service for virtually every internet activity, from payments to texting to authenticating your identity. If you’re into diversification, there are other options.
Google Duo: Google already offered a video conferencing option in the form of Google Hangouts. However, it rolled out a stand-alone app recently, one which is very simple in format and only intended for one-to-one calls, so no group chats available. While it’s very similar to FaceTime, according to TechAdvisor it does have some unique selling points, including “the ability to see the caller’s video stream before you answer (Knock Knock) and it can switch between Wi-Fi and mobile data without dropping the call.”
Viber: While Viber has the slight downside of only calling people who have also downloaded Viber, you do have the option to include calls with up to 40 users. There are also emojis and location-sharing to make your calls more dynamic. Another perk is push notifications when the app is not active, so you know when someone is trying to get in touch with you.
Tango: Tango is another straightforward option for video chatting with large groups of people. In addition to calling other users of the app, you can carry out voice calls and text messaging. Its most interesting feature is sending music messages to your contacts, which is linked with Spotify.