Microsoft just announced Videokinect that lets you videochat with other Kinect owners and Windows Messenger users. Last week, Apple announced FaceTime, which lets people videochat between iPhone 4's. And then there's Skype. This is a mess.
Videochat is neat. It's been neat for a while now, as people have been able to videochat from computer to computer using software like Skype or iChat. It's a great way to do things like show your new baby to your parents from across the country or talk to a friend who's studying abroad. And now that it's becoming possible to do from in front of the TV or on a cellphone, it's even better. It feels like the future! But without interoperability between different types and brands of devices, it's handicapped from the get-go.
Here's how it needs to work: there needs to be a common standard that all video communication devices can work with. That way, I can ping my friend's Xbox 360 from my iPhone and vice versa.
And hey, Apple announced FaceTime as an open standard, so Microsoft could incorporate it into the Xbox 360 without a ton of effort. But would they? They undoubtedly already created their own standard for Videokinect, one that, in theory, they could implement in Windows Phone 7 devices with front-facing cameras. And so the splintering would continue.
You can see how they're thinking about it now: if videochat catches on through Videokinect, people will want to do it via their phones! Our phones! So let's keep it proprietary so the Xbox faithful will have another excuse to buy a Windows Phone 7...phone!
But if they're serious about videochat as a medium, they need to make it open so everyone can get on board. Grandma and Grandpa aren't going to be buying a Xbox 360 and Kinect just to video chat, but if it's an open standard, cheaper TV-based videochat devices could allow for them to get on board. And hey, if they're on board, it might just be the nudge a nephew or niece needed to buy Kinect for their Xbox.
And, as much as Microsoft is going to hate it, it makes the most sense to adopt FaceTime. There aren't many players out there big enough to create an open standard and have it stick, and Apple is one of them. If they try to make this a two-man contest between their standard and Apple's standard, it's just going to end up with both of them losing.
So swallow your pride and adopt Apple's standard, Microsoft. It might not feel great in the short term, but in the long term it'll end up selling more Kinects and whatever other videochat devices you decide to sell in the future. And all that money should help to soothe your wounded pride.