Video telephony has been around for decades, but has only become possible for the average consumer in serious numbers inside the last five or so years–as 3G cell phones became popular in Europe and Asia, mainly, and thanks to innovations like Skype’s video calling mode (the U.S. has seemingly lagged in the tech, which may explain why there was so much excitement and hype when Apple launched its FaceTime app to bring simple video calling to iPhones). But despite the ready tech, the phenomenon hasn’t taken off in the way early sci-fi predicted it would. As the Guardian argued back in 2007, despite the tech, the “cost and culture are putting people off talking face-to-face on the phone,” and though Deloitte’s early 2011 study predicted video calling will be “cheaper, better and more widely available than ever,” it’s not going to see “a boom in demand.”
Deloitte reported a 115% culmulative growth of video calling in the U.S., driven by 400 million new devices with the right cameras going on sale this year–but the fact that a 115% growth rate isn’t a “boom” tells you how few people are now regularly engaging in video chats.
And that’s where Vimessa enters the scene. Peter Clark, CEO and cofounder, says that his research confirms “consumers want video mesaging, but they don’t want it in the form-factor of a phone call–they want it in the form-factor of a text message. This makes a lot of sense if you look at all of the trends recently: everything is going asynchronos, so you can consume it later. Even IM is being replaced by Facebook messages.” His team then “puzzled over why this idea hadn’t been done before, and the reason is front-facing cameras [on phones] didn’t really exist, so you were either tethered to a computer or you couldn’t do it. It’s only with the iPhone 4 and the Nexus S and also Windows phones with front-facing cameras that this is possible.”
Vimessa works to let you send a video clip message to any phone number or email address, and it’s the first app to let you do this, Clark asserts. You don’t have to have the app installed to receive them–it works by routing around all the technological mismatches between phone and computer systems and even between phone formats, simply sending the recipient an SMS containing a URL to the video link. The link opens the phone’s browser, and the web page optimized for the mobile browser then is the front-end for the video. The same system also works to and from a desktop computer, because, as Clark notes “we viewed it as that we should just ‘remove the wiring’. The beauty of SMS is that is sends to every mobile device, as everyone has a phone number and everyone accepts SMS.”
This cross-time zone business-appealing aspect drives the company’s freemium model. “One of the problems of business travel is that you normally have a number of SIM cards rustling around in your wallet, and it becomes really annoying for [everyone else] to work out what phone number you’re on. So for a small amount–$5 or $10 per month–you have a Pro account on Vimessa which lets you tie all of your phone numbers into one account. So if anyone sends you a message on any of your phone numbers, it goes to your device,” says Clark.
That sounds a little like some of the cross-platform functionality that makes Google Voice so attractive. In the future, Vimessa could also work inside companies–and Clark explained that further down the road they’re planning on enabling intra-company video messaging, which we imagine could be useful in terms of making tasking or praise messages from your boss more personal, more emotional (leaving less scope for misunderstanding, perhaps).
The time-zone element of the app, along with its ability to “strenghten personal relationships” is aslo played up in the company’s press release in regard to sending cross time-zone messages between family members for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday (perhaps even more relevant for overseas family members or servicemen), and Clark notes that the timing of Vimessa’s launch was directed toward capturing a Thanksgiving audience.
So Vimessa is video voicemail, but for your tablet, phone and PC, with a few handy tools to make business people’s lives a little simpler (and perhaps a little more complex too–it’s easy to be made nervous by a ticking-off message from your boss, but perhaps a lot more nerve-wracking to see their angry face in a Vimessa clip). Would your granny be pleased to be woken up by a video message from your family on Thanksgiving? Could it be a gateway to then making a video Skype call? Its the answers to these questions, along with a predicted paradigm shift in how we see video messaging, that Vimessa’s future is predicated on.