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11

The Fantastic and Troubled History of the Video Phone

Being able to see the person on a call is something we now take totally for granted. However, once upon a time, the idea of a “video phone” was pure science fiction. The notion that we could actually SEE the person on the other end of the call was something from The Jetsons, not reality.

The earliest models were insanely expensive, much as were the first PCs. Films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey popularized the concept so much that AT&T spent hundreds of millions of dollars over three decades attempting to develop an economical device for the home consumer. They were unsuccessful and finally abandoned the effort in 1994, leaving the market wide open for others.

Who would have guessed that, just a few years later, quite independently of all of AT&T’s efforts, the “picture phone” would become a reality? It turned out a bit different than AT&T envisioned – where video communication was just an optional function of the new phones. As optimistic as the company was, even they could not have imagined that by 2018 it would be on portable devices in the hands of approximately 2.5 billion people worldwide.

The full story and many more illustrations may be found here.


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I missed the MAD article. I keep recalling the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where the scientist on the big space station chats with his daughter on Earth. I enjoy seeing and chatting with my young grandchildren back up in Buffalo NY on Skype or Facetime.
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Does anyone remember the MAD magazine take on this? It was probably from the late 60s, early 70s. They envisioned a video phone for which you could buy roll-down backdrops, so you could appear to be sitting in an office (working late to fool "the wife"), or at a doctor's office (so you could call in sick to fool the boss), and even fool yourself by accidentally rolling down the wrong back drop.
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This is some super cool history, and thank you for sharing, even though I avoid video calling at almost all costs. I am one of those people that look terrible in every photograph at all times somehow - making live video just that much worse...
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