• Apple Planning Video-Enabled Social Network: Analyst

    The revelation that the next-generation iPhone would feature a front-facing camera pleased many iPhone users and industry observers who had been clamoring for such a feature for some time. One analyst, however, thinks the camera is all a part of an Apple plan for a whole new kind of social networking: one that lets users share video of themselves while gaming or interacting. There are other mobile devices that have front-facing phones, and they're used for video calls (where the network supports that feature) and self-portraits... as well as mirrors. Noting that Apple can - and often does - make big, game-changing moves that create a whole new type of product or service that didn't really exist before, or only on a small scale (iPod, iTunes Store, iPhone, etc.), analyst Ezra Gottheil predicts that Apple is going to turn cameras-in-your-face into the next big thing.

    Referring to Apple chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer's announcement that Apple's margins may drop due to "future product transitions," Gottheil, a senior analyst with Technology Business Research, told Computerworld that he thinks this means "Apple is going to push into video conferencing, video social network or video social gaming." He's combining the camera news with the ongoing mystery about the purpose of what he calls "a humongous data center" Apple is building in North Carolina and suggesting that the two are more closely related. Many observers have opined that the data center is likely for some future Apple online offering, such as a cloud-based iTunes that would combine music/video sales and storage in the cloud. Gottheil allows that "Apple needs to get into the online services business," but disagrees that they'd be doing what other companies have done, saying that Apple's service "can't be plain vanilla."

    Instead, Gottheil's idea is that Apple would use the data center to route the video communications between two different devices. They'd create "an application or two" to generate interest in the service, and then allow developers to create a whole range of networked, video-enabled apps that would allow users to do things like see and interact with each other as they game. This would allow them to "create a compelling and very sticky subscription service," Gottheil wrote in a research note to his clients on Wednesday.

    In addition to the "lost and found" iPhone prototype, there have been indications that a future iPad model may also sport a front-facing camera. A teardown of the iPad done on the day it was released showed that there was a space for a component about the size of the iSight cameras used in the MacBook line, as well as a hole in the touchscreen glass for the lens.
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