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Must be the data consumption part. AT&T starter package is 300 MB a month.

Yep. The answer might be in someone who figures out how to optimize video chat for efficiency.

If the quality is too low, though, the benefits to communication from seeing your partner's facial features synchronized with their voice disappear, and people won't bother using it.

If software identified the user's face in live video and transmitted just that at high resolution, discarding or compressing the rest, how much efficiency could be gained?

Actually an interesting idea - in this context Facebook's purchase of Face.com might seem prescient.

Separately - as data gets cheaper and video chat is further optimized, video chat over 3G/4G becomes more feasible. Probably our answer to this is in the countries that have abundant bandwidth? What do high schoolers in Korea/Scandinavia use for video chat?

My girlfriend is Korean and she uses Skype for video chat.

Adaptive lossy compression already does that implicitly. Static background content will consume very little bandwidth. A bad case might be if you are riding in a vehicle so the background is moving a lot...then it could be good to eliminate it. But this use case doesn't seem so common today.

The MPEG-4 facial animation standard is quite bandwidth-efficient. I don't think any apps currently use it.


Edit: I mean to suggest that photos might be the optimization.

Potentially, but I think the gap facetime/skype fills is real time, whereas snapchat is async no matter how you slice it. It's explicitly a call+response method of communication that the receiver can engage right away, or view tomorrow, and respond tomorrow. While sending a recorded video or highly compressed pic will benefit from more efficient data transfer, its still not quite the same as a live open video chat.

Google+ hangouts are bandwidth optimized.

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