Facetime: an industry standard – when?

This weekend, Apple is releasing the iPad around the world, with brand new hardware and expands the iOS universe a little further. Which brings up some questions about a promise made a while ago.

Back in June 2010, when he unveiled the iPhone 4, Steve Jobs also presented a new video-conferencing technology called FaceTime. The technology allowed for easy face to face communication over a video-conferencing network, similar to what Skype has offered for a long time. As mister Jobs himself put it then, “this is one of those moments that reminds us of why we do what we do” and it was indeed impressive. He then provided a stunner of an announcement by adding “Now it’s based on a handful of standards… but this is going to be an open industry standard.

Apple had an awesome technology and, on the morning of June 7, 2010 at 11:39am, it announced that it would make it an open industry standard. This was great news for our industry (with the possible exception of Skype, which found itself in the awkward position of seeing its own proprietary technology being upstaged by a new open industry standard) and it was the perfect way to shut down any question people might have about the Apple platform not being open.

Apple’s offerings have now gone through a complete round of refreshes since that promise was made. Whether it is the iPhone, which was upgraded to iPhone 4S the following year, the iPad, which is now in its second iteration since the announcement, AppleTV (which also just saw a recent refresh) or OSX, which will incorporate FaceTime in its next version and was refreshed at least once since Mr. Jobs’ announcement, or Macs, which have seen their own upgrade cycle, there isn’t a product in Apple’s offering that has not seen an upgrade since Mr. Jobs announced that FaceTime would be an industry standard.

Honor thy founder

I thought that maybe Apple had quietly rolled out a version of the FaceTime API under its open source initiative, a place where the company puts an impressive amount of material in the public domain. But unfortunately, it was not the case.

Apple has established a substantial amount of leadership and goodwill by opening up webkit, their web browsing library, thus making it possible for them to have a substantial impact on the development of web browsers for mobile devices (today, the vast majority of mobile devices use a webkit-based browser, with the exception of the Windows Phone platform).

Its support of unix-based operating systems over the last decade as it aligned with OSX was also invaluable to countless numbers of computer geeks. The support and alignment of a number of technologies like CUPS (for printers) made it easier for the unix and linux community to get more hardware to work properly with those operating system, thanks in large part to Apple’s endorsement of the technology.

Apple’s leadership in supporting and contributing to the H.264 video standard helped catalyze the video industry around a set of compatible offerings, removing the need we had earlier in the century for multiple plugins to handle multiple video formats in a browser. That effort carried over to mobile devices, where H.264 is increasingly becoming the way in which video is being recorded.

Because Apple has had a long tradition of supporting open standards, and because it also has a long tradition of keeping things it doesn’t consider an open standard fully closed and proprietary, when they announce that they are going to open something up, they generally do.

In fact, I could not find any evidence in Apple’s past of the company announcing they would turn a technology of theirs into an industry standard and then recanted on doing so.

However, I realize that things have changed since Mr. Jobs made his announcement. He has since stepped down as the company’s CEO and was lost way too young to illness. But much has been made about the fact that his spirit lives on at the company.

If Steve Jobs’ spirit does live on at Apple, it then logically goes without saying that one of his last wishes, the wish that FaceTime be made into an industry standard, be respected. Anything less would only mean that when the company lost its founder, it also lost its sense of contribution to the industry, respect for the users, and love for truly¬†magnificent¬†solution, turning it only into a greedy profit-focused machine that can barely be distinguished from a Wall Street bank.

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