I’m envious of the technology in Facebook’s Portal; I walked past a demo unit at a Best Buy last year and was so delighted to see the camera follow me wherever I walked. It may have zoomed as well? I don’t remember, but it’s a far cry from the experience on the Amazon Echo Show I was gifted earlier this year, which is angled upward by default and therefore perpetually propped up on a coaster and whose use usually involves crouching and contorting my whole body uncomfortably for 15 minutes while video chatting.
I don’t want to invite Facebook into my life any more than it already is, or require my friends and family to invite it into theirs (for hundreds of dollars) so we can video chat more comfortably. On the other hand, most people I know already own some Apple product that is capable of FaceTime, making it our go-to video chat software during the pandemic.
I’m lucky enough to have a gooseneck phone mount, which, when clipped to the coffee table, makes these FaceTime sessions at least somewhat more comfortable, but the size of the screen and speakers leaves a lot to be desired.
What we all want, of course, is video chat on our TVs. Yes, you can AirPlay your phone to your Apple TV (or Roku these days), but placing your camera so that you’re optimally visible for those on the other end of the call remains a problem, not to mention the audio feedback issues that can occur.
I’ve often wondered how Apple could solve this. Creating a “HomePad” — a HomePod with a touch screen — doesn’t feel like the right approach, as that would require an entirely different UI from iPadOS, and would be off most of the time, taking up space needlessly on a shelf or counter. Besides which, people already have the perfect screen for video chatting — their TV.
A separate camera that, I dunno, mounted to the tops of TVs? That feels like an awful product that would require additional cables and would be in constant danger of falling. A camera on the front of an Apple TV? That would prevent you from keeping your Apple TV in a cabinet or behind the TV.
One place that might make perfect sense for a camera is a standard HomePod. Stick a small lens on there, write some smart “ML” software that allows it to follow you around the room and zoom as necessary, AirPlay it to an Apple TV, and boom: FaceTime TV. A HomePod is likely to have an unobstructed view of you anyway, since you need it out in the open to sound good in the first place.
Steve Jobs said, when introducing FaceTime: “FaceTime is based on a lot of open standards, and we’re gonna take it all the way: We’re going to the standards bodies starting tomorrow, and we’re gonna make FaceTime an open industry standard.”
This didn’t happen, of course. Years later I feel like one of the only people who remembers it. If only all these devices could just call each other.