Next Apple Watch extremely unlikely to get FaceTime video calling

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited June 2015
A recent rumor claims Apple's next revision of Watch hardware will include FaceTime video calling, and despite offering no actual evidence to back this up, the story has spread wildly. The idea doesn't make much sense though, here's why.

Apple Watch

Could FaceTime work on an Apple Watch?

FaceTime, Apple's brand for video chat over IP or cellular networks, was first introduced by Steve Jobs in 2010 for the then-new A4-powered iPhone 4. The S1 chip package in Apple Watch includes a processor that's based on the A5 architecture of an iPhone 4s, a year newer than the first iPhone to support FaceTime. However, there's a lot more that's missing on Apple Watch.

That includes, obviously, a camera. Packing a camera into the bezel of Apple Watch would require a monumental feat of engineering, given that the device is already densely packaged. Unlike an iPhone, the entire front face of the Watch is devoted to screen real estate, with only a narrow bezel surrounding it.

That bezel also curves from the edge of the active display down to meet the body of the Watch. Without radically changing that design, that would force a front facing camera element to look through a rounded glass or sapphire edge, creating a complex distortion in the image.

Apple Watch


Alternatively, if Apple made the Watch face taller to accommodate a larger flat region it could place a camera behind, it would result in an odd shape that would erase the company's stated esthetic concerning an "invisible line between hardware and software."

A third option would be to have a camera lens protruding from the edge of the watch. That would not only violate that "invisible line" but also turn the classic, fashionable design of Apple Watch into a clumsy, techy-looking "smartwatch," a product category that other vendors have struggled to sell a few hundred thousand units at bargain prices.

That's not the demographic or the product category Apple wants to target. Recall the feigned outrage Apple attracted when it introduced iPhone 6 with a budget Android-style protruding camera lens. However, having no place for a camera isn't the only obstacle to introducing FaceTime on Apple Watch.

Insufficient resolution to support functional FaceTime

While today's Apple Watch has a FaceTime-era A5 chip architecture and the same 512 megabytes of RAM as the first generations of FaceTime iPhones, it bears little other resemblance to FaceTime-capable iOS devices.

Both Apple Watch models offer a tiny fraction of the screen resolution of even an iPhone 4 (which has 614k pixels); the larger 42mm model has 121k pixels, while the 38mm has 92k pixels. Today's watchOS doesn't really support video playback at all, but watchOS 2 (coming this fall) will introduce support for "short video clips."

At WWDC, Apple described this upcoming functionality as supporting apps such as Vine and its five second videos (a Vine of a Vine on watchOS 2, below, where this three second clip was provided as a "great example of video playing back on the Watch").

Apple's watchOS 2 transition guide defines this new video encoding as H.264 High Profile at a 160 kpbs bitrate and a 208x260 portrait orientation resolution (54k pixels).



Today's users are growing increasingly used to an iPhone 6 resolution (more than 1 million pixels). Even the original FaceTime front facing camera on iPhone 4 delivered a 640x480 resolution (307k pixels). That was okay for its time, but it's considered pretty basic today. The short video format on watchOS 2 offers less than a quarter of that resolution.

The five second Vine Apple presented as a demonstration of short videos on watchOS 2 doesn't exactly suggest that Apple Watch is intended to be a media platform for sending and receiving simultaneous, real time video streams anytime in the near future, even if there were any clear value in being able to see a tiny, limited resolution video chat on ones' wrist.

FaceTime video would simply not be very compelling on the Watch, and video originating on Apple Watch would look terrible on an iPhone, iPad or Mac. That explains why today's Apple Watch focuses on clever ways of visually communicating through doodles, taps and heartbeats: it simply isn't very practical to deliver video chat on such a small screen with currently available technology. However, the screen resolution isn't the only limiting factor beyond having no place for a camera.

Other limitations to supporting FaceTime

With such relatively low resolutions compared to Apple's FaceTime iPhones, Apple Watch could conceivably deliver a scaled down FaceTime video feed with less computing effort (even if you ignore the quality issue). However, there are other resources that are also extremely scaled down on Apple Watch--most importantly the battery.

While computing power and memory physically shrink down on dramatically smaller chips every year, batteries are not getting much smaller per watt hour delivered, at all. Apple Watch devotes much of its volume to its battery, but it still only achieves single day battery life despite a series of aggressive power use minimization strategies.

Apple Watch inside
Apple Watch inside. Source: iFixit


One of most obvious of these is that the screen shuts itself off at every opportunity. That's a signal that having the display lit up is a big battery burner. To support FaceTime video calls, Apple would have to shoehorn in a camera element, add processing power and account for a big power drain anytime the feature was actually used, all without ravaging its existing battery life.

And despite all of that, the best it could hope to deliver in 2016 is a tiny, pixelized video image that couldn't be very smooth. Additionally, Apple notes that in watchOS 2, whenever a watch app plays short videos the device has to stop background tasks such as heartbeat monitoring.

On so many levels, FaceTime video sounds like a terrible engineering tradeoff made at great expense, or simply an uninformed rumor invented without much thought.

Would FaceTime be useful on a Watch?

Would FaceTime users be excited use a Dick Tracy feature even if such calls were slow to initiate (it already takes a moment on fast iPhone hardware), and then deliver a jerky, pixelated image that clouded the remote user's emotions to the point where one could barely make out what was happening?

That sounds like a non-useful technology demonstration, not a feature on an Apple product. Apple tends to not support features until it can deliver them in a useful, "magical" form.

Take today's Apple Watch remote camera function. It can currently activate the camera on your iPhone and either snap a picture or initiate a 3 second timer for Burst image capture. But it doesn't even attempt to let you capture video, even though all the work in video capture would be performed by the attached iPhone. That's because the feature isn't very valuable without a functional video preview.

Remote photos you take can be reviewed on Apple Watch, but to really see what you've captured you'd want to look on your phone. In Photos, you can use the Digital Crown to zoom into the image to examine it, but this isn't practical for video in a FaceTime session.

Apple touts the larger screens of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus as being incredibly popular, specifically noting that many camera users love the huge "viewfinder" offered by the display. This is also why iPads are commonly used as cameras by tourists, despite the fact that they don't have the best camera hardware.

Screen size is incredibly important when taking photos or when looking at video. Why would anyone want to see a tiny video image on their wrist when it takes less time to pull out an iPhone with a large, clear display? With just a little examination, FaceTime on AppleWatch sounds like a blind guess, not a reasonable, technically achievable, practical, killer feature for next year's hardware.

Cool not Creepy: Apple Watch isn't a Google Glass or Samsung Gear

Other disadvantages related to putting a camera on Apple Watch are highlighted in the history of Google's failed Glass product concept or the original Samsung Gear watch, both of which incorporated a low quality camera that caused more problems than it solved.

Samsung's Gear watch didn't attempt to pull off video calls (highlighting the technical barriers inherent in such a feature), but it did offer to take surreptitious photos or low quality, awkwardly taken selfies, using a camera that bulged out the side of its band.

Samsung Galaxy Gear


"The Gear's odd tech proposition feels as voyeuristic as Google Glass...maybe even more so," noted a review by Scott Stein for CNET.

"It's a good camera for a watch -- better than you'd think (1.9 megapixels, with 4GB of onboard storage)," Stein wrote. "But most people would pick their phone over the Gear any day. It's also not particularly fast. I attempted to surreptitiously swipe open the camera app and tap on the smartwatch's screen to snap a photo, and the whole process took at least 4 seconds. Just the time between tap and snap seemed to take about a second."

His review centered on the Gear's camera because no other mainstream watch had previously offered such a feature. However, his description that using it "feels weird, and a little upsetting," and his conclusion that it was "a recipe for social weirdness," highlights why. Even Samsung took the camera off its subsequent editions of the Gear watch line.

Beyond the creepy vibe of a wearable camera, incorporating a FaceTime camera would also raise other issues for Apple Watch, such as making it unacceptable in many corporate and government environments where cameras are forbidden by security policy. On phones, camera features can be blocked by device management rules.

However, while the Enterprise quickly embraced iPhones as essential tools for mobile workers, companies are much less likely to want to expand support for every Watch their employees wear to work, particularly if it doubles their management efforts without adding clear new benefits. Without a camera, Apple Watch will find its way into work with fewer barriers, because employers will have one less significant reason for concern.

And outside of work, people wearing an Apple Watch in a bar, at a party or within a public bathroom don't get second looks by the people around them wondering if they are being spied upon by a creepy new invasion of technology into their private world. A FaceTime-equipped watch would shatter that, all in exchange for the dubious value of delivering poor quality video conversations.

FaceTime doesn't fit Apple's stated Watch design goals

Apple Watch excels as a readily available screen for brief interactions: a Glance at your notifications, or the day's calorie burn, or upcoming calendar events, or a quick reply to a message. It also works really well for delivering incremental navigation directions while driving, or even to take an incoming phone call while keeping your eyes and hands on the wheel.

Phone calls through Apple Watch are actually very high quality, largely because its easy to deliver a voice stream without using much network bandwidth. Even basic Bluetooth can deliver decent voice quality conversations, and Apple Watch uses Bluetooth 4.0, which invokes Wi-Fi hardware to speed up data throughput. Video not only requires much more network traffic, but is also more complex to set up when establishing a call. And basic mobile cameras are slow, as evidenced by the Samsung Gear and older iPhones.

Additionally, while taking a brief phone call on your Apple Watch is sometimes more convenient than pulling out your phone (particularly while driving), longer conversations -- or those made on the street or in other noisy environments -- quickly become awkward when you're talking into a watch.

Adding FaceTime to the mix would make wrist-calls even less practical, because you'd have to hold your arm at a specific angle and stare into it for the duration of the call. That's no longer a quick interaction.

From Apple Pay transactions to sending a heartbeat or quick doodle to a friend, Apple Watch sessions are designed to be simple, quick alternatives to pulling out and interacting with the full range of features available on an iPhone. Apple's guidelines state that average interactions on Apple Watch range from 2 to 5 seconds.

At WWDC, Apple stressed that developers making Watch apps shouldn't simply try to replicate their iPhone apps on the Watch, but rather seek to expose key features or information that users might want to quickly view or take a simple action on. Apple's guidelines state that average interactions on Apple Watch range from 2 to 5 seconds.

Establishing a FaceTime video session can take that long by itself. Further, FaceTime requires significant image processing, a fully lit screen through the duration of the call (unlike an audio call), and demands a constant, high quality network connection. Why destroy your Watch battery when you can pull out your phone and perform a FaceTime video call faster, with much higher quality, using your iPhone's much larger battery?

Barring a series of vast technical leaps, FaceTime video on your wrist currently makes little sense as a feature, and suggesting that it is "probably" going to be an upcoming feature on the next Apple Watch shows a deep lack of understanding about the product Apple created and an ignorance of what the company is telling its developers to help them to design apps aligned with its design goals.

Tetherless Wi-Fi is a feature of WatchOS 2, doesn't require a new Watch

Other supposed features tied to the FaceTime camera rumor are also poorly thought out speculation, or simply misinformed. For example, the same report imagined that "a new and more dynamic wireless chipset" would be required to support "tether-less" data transfers independent from its connected iPhone.

That isn't true. Apple states (on its public developer website) that today's Apple Watch will gain the ability to connect to known Wi-Fi networks directly with simply a software update in watchOS 2 later this year.

"Using NSURLSession, Apple Watch can now communicate directly with known wifi hotspots using the new Tetherless Wi-Fi feature in watchOS 2," Apple notes. No new hardware needed.




The same source of these rumors similarly predicted that Apple would release a Home app for controlling HomeKit devices in iOS 9. HomeKit is a framework for developers to create their own apps, something several home automation developers (such as Insteon and Philips) have already done. There's no Home app needed in iOS 9.

Additionally, while the site joined many others in predicting the launch of new Apple TV hardware at WWDC, it specifically said a new Home app would appear, "utilizing the Apple TV as a hub connecting all of the HomeKit devices."

HomeKit devices don't need a "hub" outside of Wi-Fi or Ethernet connectivity. Also, Apple TV is only needed to access HomeKit devices remotely, as it acts as a secure gateway for requests and commands issued from outside the home to HomeKit devices inside the user's private network.

Using Apple TV as a remote gateway is already a feature of HomeKit. In fact, at WWDC Apple introduced a new secure mechanism allowing user remote access without requiring Apple TV, using iCloud instead. These rumors are so poorly informed that they're predicting the past, not the future.

Rumor rain

Unfortunately, it's easy to float non-sensical rumors with zero evidence and have them picked up by a wide range of content bloggers and even legitimate appearing news sites that don't know anything about technology or Apple. When this speculation is wrong, it either quickly gets forgotten or the predictor turns around and says that Apple "delayed" planned features. In many cases this has not been true.The reality is that the original prediction was simply wrong

When a weather newscaster forecasts rain that doesn't happen, it would appear foolish to blame the earth for not raining as planned, then announce that the earth is making a big mistake because "we need rain!" and then, when it does rain, complain that it took longer than predicted. The reality is that the original prediction was simply wrong.

In this case, it appears that there are no clouds on the radar to suggest a precipitation of FaceTime Apple Watches; Apple TV already supports HomeKit (no Apple Home app required); and that tether-free W-iFi is a feature all Apple Watch owners will get this fall in watchOS 2, not something anyone will have to wait for new watch hardware to get.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 56
    Absolutely the truth and very well written. This rumor was BS and you totally explained why it was crazy to think it was even remotely true.

    - Justin Sluss of [B][URL=http://TheAppleWatch.us]TheAppleWatch.us[/URL][/B]
  • Reply 2 of 56
    The erganomics of this show the flaws. If anyone has tried to play some of the Apple Watch games your arm starts to ache after about 30 seconds so there is no way you could hold a significant call on FaceTime, especially when you include the time taken to connect.
  • Reply 3 of 56
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    A third option would be to have a camera lens protruding from the edge of the watch. That would not only violate that "invisible line" but also turn the classic, fashionable design of Apple Watch into a clumsy, techy-looking "smartwatch," a product category that other vendors have struggled to sell a few hundred thousand units at bargain prices.

     

    What if the digital crown slid out about 1cm and there was a camera on the side of it, and you push it back in to end the call? Since the camera is hidden inside in normal usage, it doesn't effect the aesthetic and also might address the Glass-like privacy concern.

  • Reply 4 of 56
    chiachia Posts: 701member
    I'm going to stick my neck out and argue that video calling on the move, for whatever reason, just doesn't have a mass market appeal. Since the advent of 3G we've had devices which are more than capable of providing the video calls sci-fi of the past portrayed, yet even in a metropolis such as London it's rare to see someone making a video call on the move or even in public.

    There's no point going through a lot of effort and design compromise incorporating video calling into the Apple watch when it's something very very few people would use.
  • Reply 5 of 56
    crowleycrowley Posts: 6,046member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post

     

     

    What if the digital crown slid out about 1cm and there was a camera on the side of it, and you push it back in to end the call? Since the camera is hidden inside in normal usage, it doesn't effect the aesthetic and also might address the Glass-like privacy concern.


     

    That sounds like an engineering nightmare, but actually pretty neat as a solution for the hardware issue.

     

    Video calling on the watch though?  I don't see it happening.

  • Reply 6 of 56
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,494member
    Adding FaceTime to the mix would make wrist-calls even less practical, because you'd have to hold your arm at a specific angle and stare into it for the duration of the call.

    Simply posting this single line would've made the point come across. Should Apple want to put a camera on the match I'm certain they will succeed, eventually. But yes, I also don't see the point of making a FT call on the watch.

    But why should this be an all or nothing solution? They can simply implement one-way FT calls. That could be considered as 'neat'. And it would only require a simple update of the wOS.
  • Reply 7 of 56
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,147member
    Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
  • Reply 8 of 56
    richlrichl Posts: 2,213member

    DED, I tried to find the post you wrote a couple of years ago about why Apple wouldn't get into subscription music services. However, I couldn't find it and instead came across the following message on Google:

     

    Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe. Learn more

     

    What are you trying to hide using Europe's right to be forgotten laws?

  • Reply 9 of 56
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,494member
    richl wrote: »
    DED, I tried to find the post you wrote a couple of years ago about why Apple wouldn't get into subscription music services. However, I couldn't find it and instead came across the following message on Google:

    Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe. Learn more

    What are you trying to hide using Europe's right to be forgotten laws?

    Why are you posting this in a thread on a totally unrelated topic (which is against the forum rules BTW)? Wouldn't a PM be more effective? And how do you know the article was written by him? It doesn't state his name...
  • Reply 10 of 56
    roakeroake Posts: 668member
    So, FaceTime support in WatchOS 3?
  • Reply 11 of 56
    applezillaapplezilla Posts: 941member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by iantimmy123 View Post



    The erganomics of this show the flaws. If anyone has tried to play some of the Apple Watch games your arm starts to ache after about 30 seconds so there is no way you could hold a significant call on FaceTime, especially when you include the time taken to connect.



    I have a number of watches I've collected over the years (which are now collecting dust). Whenever I wanted to mess with some of the more complicated settings, I would take the watch off and do so. It's the nature of all watches due to the construction of our shoulders, wrists, and necks that this fatigue sets in quickly. 

     

    I wouldn't play games on it, nor would I make FaceTime calls. Even normal phone calls get tedious fast.

     

    The core of apps and functionality are 90% of the genius of the device. So far third party apps haven't impressed me.

     

    But I digress... Video calls on the Watch? I don't need it.

  • Reply 12 of 56
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    ascii wrote: »
    What if the digital crown slid out about 1cm and there was a camera on the side of it, and you push it back in to end the call? Since the camera is hidden inside in normal usage, it doesn't effect the aesthetic and also might address the Glass-like privacy concern.

    Doesn't address all the other shortcomings -- number one being how awkward and uncomfortable it would be to hold your arm out in front of you for any extended period of time. Then the usefulness of micro screen for vid chat, then the severe drain on battery life that must be paid for such a thing. It just doesn't add up.
  • Reply 13 of 56
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    richl wrote: »
    DED, I tried to find the post you wrote a couple of years ago about why Apple wouldn't get into subscription music services. However, I couldn't find it and instead came across the following message on Google:

    Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe. Learn more

    What are you trying to hide using Europe's right to be forgotten laws?

    What are you doing with tinfoil wrapped around your head?
  • Reply 14 of 56
    jmgregory1jmgregory1 Posts: 457member

    Adoption and use of FaceTime on iPhones is still a significantly low number and with several generations of people seemingly averse to talking on a phone, let alone video talking with someone, my guess is there is little need for Apple to push forward with a wrist-worn video communicator.  

     

    Sure, it's the future a great number of us who grew up in the 60's and 70's thought was destined to be, but times have changed and the future hasn't exactly followed what sci-fi writers thought it would be.

     

    I think that if anything, Apple needs to push forward as quickly as they can on better wireless headset technology.  Not having to hold your phone to your ear, or be connected to wires that get in the way and are prone to damage, or to even use the mostly ugly and larger sized than need be bluetooth headsets currently on the market, is what is required to make using your Watch as a phone commonplace.

  • Reply 15 of 56

    Another swing for the fences call by DED rooted in baseless opinions with some logic, doesn't make it any more credible than the original rumor.

     

    I too remember the overly verbose articles when there was no way Apple would ever go near Intel chips, rear cameras on iPads, NFC in devices, music subscriptions, Android can't survive, Samsung will be dead, Apple will win e-books, no stock dividend, Android Android...and on.

     

    Arguing against technology and progress is always a mistake. While I too personally believe Facetime isn't coming to the watch, I wouldn't sit here today and tell you it's absolutely not happening. All the engineering points are entirely irrelevant, this is Apple, if they want to do something they will find a way. Only Apple knows that. Apple might make use of some sort of camera on a watch for different reasons: medical, quick capture of information, or things we don't see coming yet. Anyone's opinions aren't any more or less right than the guy next to you. 

  • Reply 16 of 56
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by NolaMacGuy View Post





    Doesn't address all the other shortcomings -- number one being how awkward and uncomfortable it would be to hold your arm out in front of you for any extended period of time. Then the usefulness of micro screen for vid chat, then the severe drain on battery life that must be paid for such a thing. It just doesn't add up.

    I don't think the screen is too small for vidchat. A lot of people carry around photos of their loved ones in their wallets that are not much bigger than that. It's too small for video in general, but just for a head/face it's ok. 

     

    As for your arm getting tired, I don't think people would even try standing there holding their arm up to their face and talking to it (for that very reason). They would find somewhere to sit or slouch down rest their arm on their lap or tummy.

     

    Speaking of talking faces on your wrist, when is Siri going to get a face?

  • Reply 17 of 56
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,494member
    ascii wrote: »
    I don't think the screen is too small for vidchat. A lot of people carry around photos of their loved ones in their wallets that are not much bigger than that. It's too small for video in general, but just for a head/face it's ok. 

    If they put a camera on the watch the screen would need to display that as well. So about a quarter of the screen would be dedicated to that, leaving 3/4 of the screen to display the person on the other end.

    IMO, useless. Like I wrote, it may be useful for a one-way FT call; seeing the other person who is calling from a Mac or an iPhone.
  • Reply 18 of 56
    donarbdonarb Posts: 52member



    n/m

  • Reply 19 of 56
    robotrobot Posts: 4member



    And you'd have to keep the watch face parallel to your face. That's not very comfortable. 

  • Reply 20 of 56
    netroxnetrox Posts: 818member
    Other smart watches have it so there's no engineering issue. It's just the power issue I can see with it.

    However, having video would definitely help the deaf population which is known to be heavy users of iPhones. Since Apple Watch doesn't support text messaging, video would be acceptable alternative for most of them. They cannot speak so Siri is out of question.

    But honestly, why can't they just use a gesture based writing on Apple Watch using Graffiti strokes? It would make text messaging much more possible and much easier than typing.
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