Tag: Facebook Messenger

When should you spontaneously make that videocall

Article

Amazon Echo Show 10 in videocall - press image courtesy of Amazon

You may need to be careful about spontaneously making or taking that videocall if you want to use this communications medium effectively

Don’t spontaneously FaceTime people and expect them to pick up | Mashable

My Comments

Most of us have a preference for seeing people face-to-face but people who are from the Generation Z or younger generations increasing are interested in making and taking videocalls.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its associated stay-at-home requirements enacted by many a jurisdiction has had us wanting to make more of the videocalls. This includes participating in multiple-party videoconferences for work, learning or social life using platforms like Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams.

How presentable do you look?

As a kid who has shown interest in science-fiction and futurist-technology material, I had seen plenty of reference to videocalls as part of what communications would be about in the future. A lot of this material talked of videocall technology as a “Picturephone” or videophone and illustrated regular use of this mode of calling.

At times I had engaged in conversation about this technology and how it would fit in to our lives. An issue that was raised by some girls and women I talked to was having to “look beautiful or handsome enough” for the videocall. We raised issues like having the need to dress up or to get your hair or face right for that call.

WhatsApp desktop with videoconference support press image courtesy of WhatsApp

Not all times may be right for those videocalls

The Mashable article referenced the situation of the author being in nightwear when the Facetime call came in. This could extend to being dressed in everyday clothing you wear around the house versus the more impressionable clothing you wear when away from home or receiving visitors.

Here you can take a voice call in a flexible manner. For example, you could be out and about, you could be doing other activities at home or not worrying about being fully dressed up to take the call. The person on the other side of the line doesn’t know what you are doing or how you look.

How emotionally prepared are you?

Another factor raised is how emotionally prepared you should be. Here you would make sure you are emotionally prepared to meet someone face-to-face, similarly you should be emotionally prepared for that videocall. This is the analogy of when someone drops in at your home unexpected with this sudden arrival being very stressful for them.

This is because a videocall can be like a long face-to-face conversation rather than something that can take place quickly. Some callers can use these videocalls to pick up on any facial expressions that you exhibit during the call. As well, if you use a handheld device like a smartphone or a tablet to make or take the videocall, any shakiness that happens with your hands due to nervousness can be magnified as far as the caller is concerned.

Some people even see those Zoom multi-party videoconferences that they take part in for work as something that is very tiring. It can become aggravated where there are frequent videoconferences taking place during the workday for example. This can be about having to concentrate on how each other comes across and the messages they are conveying

How comfortable are you and what impression do you want to convey?

You may also be thinking of making sure you are comfortable before the videocall. It may be whether to sit at a desk or table or relax in lounge furniture like an armchair during the videocall.

Then you think of what the caller sees around you during the videocall as in whether the space conveys the right impression that you want to convey. This may be about having a particular bookcase or picture window behind you during the videocall or whether to go in to the garden or on to the balcony for that videocall.

Some parents of young children may want to leave the toys that their children are playing with lying around. This would be to “set the scene” about their children happily engaging in play. Or someone who loves cooking may leave food they are preparing out but in a neat manner in order to convey their love of food and cookery.

An example often seen on TV news and information programming during the COVID-19 lockdowns was how different presenters set up their “home studios” for their TV appearances when they broadcast from home. A financial presenter on ABC Australia’s nightly news bulletins had a picture window behind him and a set of different books in front of him. Then, on the same channel, an infectious-diseases expert who regularly appeared with commentary about how COVID-19 was to be managed had a large bookcase behind her.

It will also include the privacy of other members of your household especially where the background would show a thoroughfare or area of activity within your home. That is very common with the idea of open-plan interior layouts or having the front door opening directly in to the lounge area.

Even the device you use for a videocall may be important to you. This could be about using a laptop versus a tablet or smartphone for the purpose or even to use that Webcam for the videocall.

What can you do?

A good practice with making videocalls is to make a voice call or send a text message asking whether the caller wants to engage in a videocall with you before making that videocall. Here, it may be about having some warning time to get ourselves ready to make or take the call.

You may want to create an exception to this rule for those times where you and a certain caller may want to engage in impromptu videocalls and do not mind doing that. For example some parents may want to make a point of having their child take part in a videocall with that doting relative or friend perhaps as part of a family ritual.

Conclusion

It is important to consider the videocalls and multi-party videoconferences as a different kettle of fish compared to audio calls or text messaging. Then it simplifies the process of adapting your communications strategies to these different modalities.

Facebook Portal TV converts your TV in to a group Zoom videophone

Facebook Portal TV group videophone press picture courtesy of Facebook

Facebook Portal TV

Article

You can now watch Netflix on your Facebook Portal TV | CNet

Netflix Comes to Facebook’s Portal TV Video Device, Along With Zoom | Variety

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Bringing Netflix, Zoom, and More Features to Portal (Blog Post)

Bringing Netflix, Zoom and More Features to Portal (Press Release)

Portal TV (Product Page with opportunity to order)

My Comments

Facebook’s Portal TV is a set-top box with built-in Webcam that is part of Facebook’s Portal smart-display platform. The platform has shown an increase in takeup thanks to us staying home due to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague.

This device is acquiring access to more of the video-on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV and Showtime. As well, newer Facebook Portal TV devices will come with remote controls that have one-touch access to the video-on-demand services. You may find that if you even bought a replacement remote control for your Portal TV device, it will come with these extra buttons. I see the Facebook Portal TV as an attempt for another of the Silicon Valley big names to have a set-top device based around their core online-services platform and offering the video content services that “every man and his dog” wants.

But the feature that has a strong appeal to me is the Facebook Portal TV turning your TV in to a large-screen group videophone. This initially works with Facebook’s messaging platforms – Messenger and WhatsApp and you have to bind it to your account on either of these services. You can bind the Portal TV to multiple Facebook / Messenger and WhatsApp accounts to make and take calls from these accounts. But it is being extended to Zoom along with some business-grade videoconferencing platforms, with a notable absence of Microsoft’s platforms i.e. Skype and Microsoft Teams which do have a significant user base.

Here, it will legitimise the idea of your household joining in to a long-distance videocall and being able to see the participants on the end of the line on the big screen without squinting. A classic example of this could be Thanksgiving or Christmas and you want to have your family chat with your relatives that are located a long distance away so the distant relatives can be in on the celebrations.

The Portal platform even has the camera and sound self-adjust to follow the action or to encompass more people coming in to view, This is very much a reality as more people crowd in to and join that long-distance videocall. As well, it could be seen as a direction to have video watch parties like what Sling TV is proposing come to your big-screen TV.

The Portal TV set-top box assures users of their privacy by having a hardware switch to enable and disable the camera and microphones. As well, there is a physical camera shutter so the user can mask the camera out. It is also compliant with HDMI-CEC operation thus allowing for one-touch call answering where the TV (and audio peripherals if connected) will come on and select the appropriate input when you answer a Portal videocall. For older people who would benefit from this device, this behaviour means that they only need to press one button on the Portal’s remote to answer that videocall.

What needs to happen is for Google, Amazon, Apple and others to work towards introducing group videophone devices that can work with a regular TV and use the common videoconferencing platforms. This can be through Wehcam accessories that work with existing set-top devices that they have designed and made available or newer set-top devices that have integrated Webcam functionality or support for such accessories. They would have to work with videoconferencing platforms that are popular at work and at home.

Dual-device videocalling–how about it?

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TV setups with large screens and powerful sound systems could also appeal to videocalls where many people wish to participate

A reality that is surfacing with online communications platforms is the fact that most of us prefer to operate these platforms from our smartphones or tablets. Typically we are more comfortable with using these devices as our core hubs for managing personal contacts and conversations.

But there are times when we want to use a large screen such as our main TV for group videocalls. Examples of this may include family conversations with loved ones separated by distance, more so during special occasions like birthdays, Thanksgiving or Christmas. In the business context, there is the desire for two or more of us to engage in video conferences with business partners, suppliers, customers or employees separated by distance. For example, a lawyer and their client could be talking with someone who is selling their business as part of assessing the validity of that potential purchase.

Old lady making a video call at the dinner table press picture courtesy of NBNCo

This is more so when there is that family special moment

But most of the smart-TV and set-top platforms haven’t been engineered to work with the plethora of online-communications platforms that are out there. This is although Skype attempted to get this happening with various smart-TV and set-top platform vendors to allow the smart TV to serve as a Skype-based group videophone once you purchased and connected a Webcam accessory supplied by the manufacturer.

The Skype situation required users to log in to the Skype client on their TV or video device along with buying and installing a camera kit that worked with the TV. This was a case of entering credentials or searching for contacts using a “pick-and-choose” or SMS-style text-entry method which could lead to mistakes. This is compared to where most of us were more comfortable with performing these tasks on our smartphones or tablets because of a touchscreen keyboard or hardware keyboard accessory that made text entry easier.

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

An Apple TV or Chromecast that has the software support for and is connected to a Webcam could simplify this process and place the focus on the smartphone as a control surface for videocalls

The goal I am outlining here is for one to be able to use a smart TV or network-connected video peripheral equipped with a Webcam-type camera device, along with their mobile device, all connected to the same home network and Internet connection to establish or continue a videocall on the TV’s large screen. Such a goal would be to implement the large-screen TV with its built-in speakers or connected sound system along with the Webcam as the videocalling-equivalent of the speakerphone we use for group or “conference” telephone calls when multiple people at either end want to participate in the call.

Set-top devices designed to work with platform mobile devices

A very strong reality that is surfacing for interlinking TVs and mobile devices is the use of a network-enabled video peripheral that provides a video link between the mobile device and video peripheral via one’s home network.

One of these devices is the Apple TV which works with iOS devices thanks to Apple AirPlay while the other is the Google Chromecast that works with Android devices. Both of these video devices can connect to your home network via Wi-Fi wireless or Ethernet with the Apple TV offering the latter option out of the box and the Chromecast offering it as an add-on option. As well, the Chromecast’s functionality is being integrated in to various newer smart TVs and video peripherals under the “Google Cast” or “Chromecast” feature name.

Is there a need for this functionality?

As I have said earlier on, the main usage driver for this functionality would be to place a group videocall where multiple people at the one location want to communicate with another . The classic examples would be for families communicating with distant relatives or businesses placing conference calls that involve multiple decision makers with two or more of these participants at one of the locations.

Social networks and mobile messaging

Most of the mobile messaging platforms offer some form of videocalling capability

In most cases, the “over-the-top” communications platforms like Facetime, Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are primarily operated using the native mobile client app or the functionality that is part of the mobile platform. This way of managing videocalls appeals to most users because of access to the user’s own contact directory that exists on their device along with the handheld nature of the typical smartphone that appeals to this activity.

It is also worth knowing that some, if not all, of the “over-the-top” communications platforms will offer a “conference call” or “three-way call” function as part of their feature set, extending it to videocalls in at least the business-focused variants. This is where you could have multiple callers from different locations take part in the same conversation. Such setups would typically show the “other” callers as part of a multiple-picture “mosaic” on the screen. Here, the large screen can come in handy with seeing the multiple callers at once.

How is this achieved at the moment?

At the moment, these set-top platforms haven’t been engineered to allow for group videocalling and users would have to invoke screen-mirroring functionality on their mobile devices once they logically associate them with the video endpoint devices. Then they would have to position their mobile device on or in front of the TV so the other side can see your group, something which can be very precarious at times.

How could Apple, Google and co improve on this state of affairs?

Apple TV - Mirroring on - iPad

Should this still be the way to make group videocalls on your Apple TV or Chromecast?

Apple and Google could improve on their AirPlay and Chromecast platforms to provide an andio-video-data feed from the video peripheral to the mobile device using that peripheral. This would work in tandem with a companion Webcam/microphone accessory that can be installed on the TV and connected to the set-top device. For example, Apple could offer a Webcam for the latest generation Apple TV as an “MFi” accessory like they do with the game controllers that enable it to be a games console.

When users associate their mobile devices with a suitably-equipped Apple TV / Chromecast device that supports this enhancement, the communications apps on their phone detect the camera and microphone connected to the video peripheral. The user would then be able to see the camera offered as an alternative camera choice while they are engaged in a videocall, along with the microphone and TV speaker offered as a “speakerphone” option.

What will this entail?

It may require Apple and Google to write mobile endpoint software in to their iOS and Android operating systems to handle the return video feed and the existence of cameras connected to the Apple TV or Chromecast.

Similarly, the tvOS and Chromecast platforms will have to have extra endpoint software written for them while these devices would have to have hardware support for Webcam devices.

At the moment, the latest-generation Apple TV has a USB-C socket on it but this is just serving as a “service” port, but could be opened up as a peripheral port for wired MFi peripherals like a Webcam. Google uses a microUSB port on the Chromecast but this is primarily a power-supply and network-connection port. But they could, again, implement an “expansion module” that provides connectivity to a USB Webcam that is compliant to the USB Video and Audio device classes.

These situations could be answered through a subsequent hardware generation for each of the devices or, if the connections are software-addressable, a major-function firmware update could open up these connections for a camera.

As for application-level support, it may require that the extra camera connected to the Apple TV or Chromecast device be logically enumerated as another camera device by all smartphone apps that exploit the mobile phone’s cameras. The microphone in the camera and the TV’s speakers also would need to be enumerated as another communications-class audio device available to the communications apps. This kind of functionality could be implemented at operating-system level with very little work being asked of from third-party communications software developers.

User privacy can be assured through the same permissions-driven setup implemented in the platform’s app ecosystem that is implemented for access to the mobile device’s own camera and microphone. If users want to see this tightened, it could be feasible to require a separate permissions level for use of external cameras and audio-input devices. But users can simply physically disconnect the Webcam from the video peripheral device when they don’t intend to use it.

An alternative path for app-based connected-TV platforms

There is also an alternative path that smart-TV and set-top vendors could explore. Here, they could implement a universal network-based two-way video protocol that allows the smart TV or set-top device to serve as a large-screen video endpoint for the communications apps.

Similarly, a smart-TV / set-top applications platform could head down the path of using client-side applications that are focused for large-screen communications. This is in a similar vein to what was done for Skype by most smart-TV manufacturers, but the call-setup procedure can be simplified with the user operating their smartphone or tablet as the control surface for managing the call.

This could be invoked through techniques like DIAL (Discovery And Launch) that is used to permit mobile apps to discover large-screen “companion” apps on smart-TV or set-top devices in order to allow users to “throw” what they see on the mobile device to the large screen. As well, the connection to the user’s account could be managed through the use of a session-specific logical token established by the mobile device.

This concept can be taken further through the use of the TV screen as a display surface, typically for communications services’ messaging functions or to show incoming-call notifications.

Conclusion

What we still need to think of is to facilitate “dual-device” videocalling with the popular mobile platforms in order to simplify the task of establishing group videocalls using TVs and other large-screen display devices.

Facebook Messenger goes native on Windows 10 desktop at last

Article

Facebook finally brings Messenger and Instagram apps to Windows 10 | CNet

Facebook Messenger for Windows 10 PC now live in the Windows Store | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Press Release

Windows Store link

My Comments

Facebook Messenger Windows 10 native client

Facebook Messenger – now native on Windows 10

Previously, I wrote about why desktop operating systems need to be supported with native-client apps for messaging platforms. Here I highlighted how the likes of ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger and Skype started off in the “regular-computer” / desktop operating system sphere and when the smartphones came on the scene, newer messaging platforms ended up being based on iOS and Android mobile platforms first.

Facebook Messenger Windows 10 live tile

Facebook Messenger live tile – now a message waiting indicator

The advantages that I highlighted included a stable client program that works tightly with the operating system; and the ability to work tightly with the operating system’s file-system. security and user-experience features extracting the maximum benefit from the user experience.

Now Facebook have answered this goal by providing a native client for Microsoft Windows 10 users, especially those of us using regular computers running this operating system.

Facebook Messenger Live Tile - Tablet mode

Facebook Messenger Live Tile – Tablet mode

This program ticks the boxes for a native client app by using its Notification Center to show incoming messages and chats; along with the ability to show messages as a Live Tile on your Start Menu. There is the ability to upload photos, videos and GIFs from your computer’s file system, which can be a bonus when you have downloaded your pictures from your good digital camera and worked on them using a good image-editing tool.

Of course, you have the features associated with your iOS-based or Android-based Facebook Messenger experience such as knowing when your correspondents are “up-to-date” with the conversation. As well, you have that similarly uncluttered experience which makes it easy to navigate your chats while it doesn’t take up much room on your screen when it is in the default windowed state.

Why support mobile messaging apps on a regular computer?

Facebook Messenger for Android

Facebook Messenger – native to the Android platform

Increasingly, the iOS, Android and Windows 10 Mobile / Windows Phone app stores are being inundated with over-the-top messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. These work well and provide a better experience for handheld text and voice messaging but they don’t offer a native option for access to these platforms using a regular Windows, Mac or Linux computer.

The Internet-based instant-messaging services started off with the regular Windows, Mac and Linux computers as the main endpoints and it was the arrival of the iPhone that shifted the direction of consumer-focused instant messaging towards mobile devices.

Social networks and mobile messaging

Some of the mobile messaging platforms including social networks with mobile messaging

But the best examples to see of messaging platforms that offer a native client for a regular computer are both the Skype and Viber platforms. Skype has offered a desktop client for their over-the-top communications platform ever since it started and I have seen many laptops run with this program. As well, Viber recently put a strong effort towards creating native desktop clients for their VoIP / messaging service which was initially targeted at mobile users. Viber even added videocalling to their desktop clients before they rolled it out to the mobile clients.

How do you gain access to these services on a regular computer if you don’t have a native client?

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

These computers are being used for mobile messaging and social networking

Most of these messaging platforms provide a Web front which allows you to use the platform to communicate using your preferred desktop Web browser but this is fraught with problems. In some cases where there isn’t a Web front for the platform, you may have to use an Android mobile-platform emulator along with the Android mobile client to run the messaging-platform app.

Facebook and Dropbox desktop

This is how we are using Facebook Messenger on the regular computer

These options don’t provide the same kind of experience that a native client would provide for a messaging platform. For example, you would have to keep a browser session alive and dedicated to your messaging platform and all of the user interface would be focused within that session. Or you would have to face performance and reliability issues with the emulator software.

What can a native client offer for the regular computer?

Reduced computing overheads yet taking full advantage of the computer’s abilities

The native client program yields a great benefit in the form of reduced computing overheads required for it to run. This is because there isn’t the need to run a full browser program to use the messaging program. Rather the developer can tune the program to run as smoothly as a regular piece of software for that computing platform.

The main benefit you gain from this is the fact that you can multi-task easily on your regular computer including having your chat with your correspondent without the system underperforming or failing. The more-powerful regular-computer processors can even make light work of the tasks needed to support the messaging platform’s multimedia-communications or encryption capabilities which could lead to a reduced time penalty for encrypting messages or to allow smooth videocalling.

For PC gamers, they can set up a chat session amongst their gaming clan without having to deal with the resident trolls and foul-mouthed miscreants that inhabit the game’s text-chat or voice-chat “party-line” and without taxing their gaming rig’s system resources. With the native desktop messaging clients, the process is similar to what I have described previously for Skype.

Tight integration with the operating system

Most of these messaging programs offer a “store-and-forward” messaging functionality along with a presence indicator. These functions, along with call notification abilities, can benefit from being integrated with the operating system’s interface.

For example, the operating system’s notification area can be used to show new messages and the latest message can appear as a “pop-up” notification. Operating systems that implement task-bars, also known as “docks” in MacOS X, could take these interface elements further by, for example, showing conversation tickers emanating from the icons or representing each conversation as its own icon.

Similarly, you can use these messaging platforms to transfer photos or videos during a conversation with the photos and videos that you send or receive being available through the operating system’s file system.

This appeals to those of us who place value on soliciting video messages as a way to create “vox-pop” video content; or can appeal to those of us who want to print out pictures that we have received. In these situations, the video-editing and photo-editing software that is available for the regular computer is more capable that what is offered for the mobile platforms due to the fact that regular computers offer more processing power than their mobile cousins.

The prevalence of ultraportable computers running regular-computer operating systems

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook (tent view) - press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook – the way to use mobile messaging and social networking

Another factor that concerns the Windows 10 platform is that there is an increasing number of tablets and 2-in-1 computers being designed for that platform and running the common desktop variant of that operating system, the best example being the Microsoft Surface family. These computers, especially the ones with a screen size less than 11”, are being considered as a viable alternative to an iPad or Android tablet.

Similarly, the ultraportable laptops of the Macbook Air and the Ultrabook variety can show their appeal as a mobile communications endpoint especially if you are wanting to dabble with text messaging while you work on that document or want to engage in a videocall.

Users who use regular computers to create content

There is still a large number of users who use a desktop or laptop computer that runs a regular operating system rather than a mobile-platform tablet for most of their computing tasks. This happens both in the workplace and the home and appeals to those of us who spend a long time at the computer, whether to write and answer emails or create content.

It is because of such facilities as keyboards that are conducive to typing, especially touch-typing, and screens large enough for content creation. Similarly, some users even optimise a regular computer for longer working sessions like equipping it with a highly-ergonomic keyboard or one or more large screens to obtain an increased visual workspace.

Being able to manage a mobile-messaging platform on these computers could allow for the ability to start or continue a conversation hosted on these platforms using the larger screen area or improved keyboard. It can be conducive to multi-tasking especially if the goal is to copy data from a conversation in to a document or application; or share information from a document or Web page to a conversation.

Companies and their employees could see this of benefit when they want to establish or maintain a presence on a mobile-messaging platform. Similarly, a mobile-messaging app for a regular computer does have some appeal to PC gamers who want to chat with a small group of team-members while playing an online game.

How is this being made feasible

Apple and Microsoft, who have had strong presence in regular-computer platforms and have presence in mobile-computing platforms, are making it easier to target software for both mobile and regular computing hardware classes. The best example is Microsoft offering the Universal Windows Platform that came with Windows 10. This allowed a software developer to target a program for both the desktop (regular-computer) and mobile versions of Windows 10 with reduced effort and there have been some efforts to make it easy to port iOS apps to the Windows 10 platform.

This could encourage the software developers behind these over-the-top mobile-messaging platforms to support the regular-computer users with very little effort, allowing them to concentrate on making the necessary software play tightly with the operating system.

Conclusion

Providing native support for a mobile-messaging platform on a regular computer can:

  • allow improved performance on a regular computer thanks to reduced software overheads
  • provide tight integration with the host computer’s operating system that leads to use of the operating system’s user-interface and file-management assets
  • take advantage of ultraportable computers that are, in some cases, a viable alternative to a tablet
  • tightly integrate with one’s use of a regular computer whether for work or pleasure

As these mobile-messaging platforms of the WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger ilk are being developed, it could be time to work on native clients that work with the regular computer.