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Ever since we first decided to stick a camera on the front of a smartphone, manufacturers have been touting the ability to make video calls as one of the major selling points of their devices. But how many of us have actually made the switch? How many of us, unhesitatingly, pick up our phones to dial and consciously decide to make a video call?
Well if the latest numbers from the US and Germany are anything to go by, it’s actually a pretty large proportion of smartphone users and one which is only growing.
According to technology research house Gartner, more than 50-million adult smartphone users in the US (about 35% of the total) use their smartphones for video calling. This number, it says, is likely to exceed 60-million people when those ages 17 and younger are included. In Germany, more than eight-million adult smartphone users (about 20%) use their devices for video calling, a figure more likely to exceed 10 million when those ages 17 and younger are included.
It’s a figure that seems a little high at first, until you realise that Gartner’s including stuff like Apple’s FaceTime, Skype, and Google Hangouts. We don’t tend to think of those as video calls because it’s stuff we can already do on the web, but there’s not really any other useful term for them.
Gartner bases its figures on a survey of more than 6 500 people in both countries. The survey also shows that adoption is markedly skewed toward the younger demographic, with video calling in the 18 to 24 age group reaching 53.5% in the US and 30 per cent in Germany. Video calling uptake is slanted toward early adopters but shows encouraging signs of expansion across all consumer segments.
“Person-to-person video calling, especially using smartphones, has reached very high numbers in the US, particularly among the younger demographics,” says Atsuro Sato, senior research analyst at Gartner Although the US results were ahead of Germany, we believe they show the direction that other markets will follow, with important implications for product managers and marketers of smartphones.”
The research house also reckons that, as with many tech trends, the world will follow in America’s wake.
“The US market is an important leading indicator for video calling take-up in other global markets,” says Andrew Chetham, managing vice president at Gartner. “In North America (the US and Canada), smartphones account for 78 per cent of total phone sales. The US is advanced in its Long Term Evolution (LTE) service coverage and corresponding better video quality should help drive usage outside Wi-Fi hot spot zones. As mobile carrier spending on LTE infrastructure expands in other countries, video calling should increase accordingly.”
Although its adoption of video calling lags behind the US, Gartner chose Germany as a European alternative market to study due to its high usage among the younger adults, pointing to a wider uptake in coming years.
“Video calling is a mass market and mainstream activity on smartphones in the US, with 34.6% adult smartphone user adoption. Other markets will follow that path, depending on local constraints,” says Werner Goertz, research director at Gartner. “As a result, product managers for smartphone original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) should ensure that high-end and midrange devices have front-facing cameras with enough resolution and overall ability to capture good quality video. The requirements for capturing video calls will be higher than for still ‘selfies.’ Optimising camera technology not for depth of focus, but for high refresh rates on images in close proximity will be essential.”