Why did the PicturePhone fail?


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Probably for the same reason people are hating on Google Glass. It was ahead of it’s time. Go back to the late 90s and anyone carrying a PDA was considered a geek, a nerd, etc. Now everyone has a PDA in their pocket. Go back to the 80s and anyone with a computer was a geek. No pretty much everyone in first world countries would think it’s crazy not to have one.

A discussion of the PicturePhone failure without any discussion of network effects?

Because the camera adds 50 lbs to my mental image of myself.

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A big part of it has to do with bandwidth. The only way to provision that kind of bandwidth back then was coax, which costs a LOT more than twisted pair. For that reason, they could do point-to-point - from the Oval Office to the Senate Cloakroom for example - but couldn’t build much of a switched network.

After that, it’s nothing but an expensive novelty. Good for impressing investors, but not terribly practical.

EDIT: Hmmm, he says it ran on twisted pair, but I don’t see how that’s possible.

The failure was right there at the 1:00 mark in the video: It cost $160 1960 dollars per month, about $1,000 a month by today’s standards. That’s LOLNOPE territory for literally 99% of the potential users, and without mass acceptance the device is useless (what’s the point of the Picturephone if the other side doesn’t have one?).

The video also said that it required a special buildout to support the phone, and apparently a mainframe to support that. Basically the engineers were thinking this high bandwidth line could be used for a lot more than just picturephones, maybe connecting computers together.

It was definitely ahead of its time. The technology it used wouldn’t be cost effective for another 40 years.

People can barely stand skype, facetime is just now cracking the market for anyone but grandparents trying to get a look at overseas grandkids.
Live video can be really cool for the right application but for the most part I dont need to see an animated head during a phone call.

Yup. This. We’ve gad video-call enabled phones for, what, a decade? No one does it though. I think I used it once on my first actual smartphone (a splendidly robust Nokia the model of which I forget now), and have never used it since.

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FWIW, I use Facetime frequently to call my wife, mostly because I can. It also doesn’t eat minutes, although that’s not much of a concern for me because I never get close to using up my minutes anyway. I also use it to call my parents because they live half a country away and like seeing the kids.

I never use it when calling up other people though. It seems too intrusive. Plus, most people don’t have it set up so it won’t work anyway.

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It’s expensive, flashy, cutting edge, high-tech gadgetry. What’s the point if everybody has one?

I’ve used this.

In 1965, at the NY Worlds Fair, I (7) and my sister (5) were pulled out of the audience at the Bell Telephone pavilion, and chatted with each other over the system - I in a glassed in booth, her in the open in front of the audience. I thought it was pretty cool.


Perhaps the disbelievers were all wrong, but it is also possible that bending over backwards to embrace technologies that aren’t quite there yet does make you a nerd - and not always in a good way.

It’s possible that a lot of people just don’t care for it. I can’t even stand talking on the voice phone, myself.

I have to agree that picture phone technology is here and is simply not as widely desired as people imagine it would be in theory.

I spend a lot of time on conference calls at work; the only time where I see people finding videoconferencing more valuable than a voice call is when the person they are speaking to has a foreign accent that makes them really hard to understand without a visual.

Otherwise, for example, the video conference calls I’ve been on are simply looking at people gathered around a table and after the initial few moments of seeing what someone looks like there is no real value add. People are not free to engage in other activities while they talk and instead are tethered to sitting in front of the camera, catching glimpses of themselves out of the corner of their eye trying to look good.

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