As expected, Facebook today finally announced one of its most long-awaited features– the ability to video chat with your Facebook friends. Powered by Skype and starting today, you’ll be able to easily video chat with any of your Facebook friends just by clicking on the video camera icon in the normal chat window. That’s it and it works in all the major browsers— Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari– on Mac or Windows, so no matter what you use you should have no problem video chatting (and like Skype on the computer, if you don’t have a webcam you can still see and hear the other person but they can only hear you). Done with the chat? Just close the video and you’re done.
And like regular Skype you can also leave video messages for a friend if they’re not online (like a private version of posting a video message on their wall which is open for all of their friends to see), and you can also now call or chat with your Facebook friends right from an updated Skype app (available for Windows users here).
The new Facebook group chat
Facebook also today introduced two other updates to Chat– a better, more organized Friends list that has a sidebar for easy access to the friends you message most, and the ability to easily group chat with multiple friends (again, just by clicking the “add friends to chat” icon in the normal chat window).
Yes all this isn’t “groundbreaking” by any stretch, but the fact that it is such an easy and simple way to make an already very good instant messaging system better does in our opinion make it awesome.
Skype video calling– now from your iPhone and iTouch (Pic from Skype)
We’re not gonna lie, we thought it wouldn’t come till at least next week at CES– but, hey, who are we to complain when something awesome happens early! Yes, you read that headline right– Skype video calling from the iPhone 4, 4th gen iPod Touch and iPhone 3GS (though obviously here only using the back camera) is now live— with video calling over WiFi and 3G!
As we wrote last week, you can also grab the update for your camera-less iPad or 3rd gen iPod Touch (running iOS 4.0 or later) and still be able to do one-way video chats with friends using Skype on their phone, PC or Mac– so don’t feel too bad iPad and 3rd gen iTouch owners.
Anyways, back to the app. In our brief hands-on with the updated app we found it worked really well. Video quality over 3G and WiFi from our iPhone 4 to our PC was very good— not perfect but very, very good (particularly for a phone), with sound coming in fine as well. There didn’t even seem to be too much of a lag between what we were doing and what was showing up on our PC, and you can even share a screen from a PC/Mac to the iPhone. One downside we noticed so far: multitasking while video chatting. If you leave the video chat while it’s going on– say, to look something up on Safari or respond to a text– the video on your end freezes to how you were when you tapped that Home button. The conversation still goes on through audio like it would on any call so you’re not dropping the connection– and the video quickly picked up when we came back to the app– but this could still be a little annoying for some. Oh, and constant use of this will also probably kill your battery life really quickly.
All in all, Skype is finally what we all were hoping for once Apple released the iPhone 4 and 4th gen iPod Touch– offering true video chat on the go while raising the bar for Apple if they want Facetime to ever be successful. Let’s just hope Skype next week spreads the mobile video chat love to Android and other mobile OSes.
The new Skype app for iOS is available now for free in the App Store— and make sure to let us know what you think of the new app in the comments.