From AT&T Picturephone to Apple FaceTime

AT&T Picturephone

It’s been a long standing journalistic practice that when writing about the failure of yet another video phone product, you march out AT&T’s Picturephone launch at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. I believe it’s a pretty safe bet that Apple’s new FaceTime will break the long losing streak of this concept and make video chats as natural and popular as, well, a cell phone call. Even though we finally have a video phone winner, it’s still instructive to look at that early Bell product, if only to understand why it will take a company like Apple to make it a mass success.

AT&T gets credit for pushing the idea of a two-way video conversation back in the 1960s. They understood that this intrusive technology meant a loss of privacy, but thought it would be counterbalanced  by the public’s just-under-the-surface narcissism. Their original advertising slogan was “Some Day You’ll be A Star” (see P. Coburn’s, The Change Function). This was a  bold call to arms for a pre-Internet, pre-Facebook, and pre-Youtube America.Continue reading