Charles Arthur: The Geek

I can't see a future for videophones
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The Independent Online

At about the same time I was pulling off the wrapping paper, Sir Alan " You're fired!" Sugar was explaining that Amstrad had seen " disappointing" sales of its E3 videophone. I think what hurt the E3 was the announcement that it is a videophone, even though it functions perfectly well as a phone or e-mailer.

I think the continued failure of videophones is nothing to do with price, or processor power. We accept jerky video as we want to see something.

No, what happens is that people hear the word "videophone", and instead of thinking "Marvellous! How soon will I have my flying car?" they think "People will see me when I'm on the phone? Argh!" Yes, they do (ask any woman). The fact that companies keep offering this service is the clearest indication that technology is designed by men, without any reference to women.

But wait: what about the enormous popularity of webcams, which can be linked up to instant messaging programs and used for face-to-face chats online? Why do people who will never countenance having a videophone in their living room use webcams?

It's because when you're instant messaging, you know who you're talking to. By contrast, the telephone is a sort of neutral ground, easily accessible to strangers. We don't have the same control as when instant messaging, where video does become acceptable.

It's a pity that Sir Alan should have to learn such a basic lesson the hard, financial way. But any time you introduce technology that works against human nature, you lose. Maybe he'll have better luck with his next venture, which is something to do with ironing out wrinkles. Perhaps he should have released that first - and the videophone next, when his customers were beautiful.