A free new iPhone app hit today that does iPhone-to-iPhone video streaming. The app is significant in several ways that affect the cell phone application space, and also the iPhonesphere. But more importantly, this is a fantastic new category of application for location-independent users.
[ See also: What kind of digital nomad are you? ]
All that below. First let me tell you how Knocking Live Video works. You sign up with a simple process, and add other iPhone users to your list of Knocking contacts. They have to approve before Knocking will add them to your list. Once added, you simply select the user. You hear a knocking-on-the-door sound, and so do they. When they respond, the video stream from your iPhone is also streamed live to theirs. You both see more or less the same thing, but with a 1- to 5-second delay. The frame rate of the video they see probably averages something like 3 frames per second. Sometimes the video sticks on one frame for a few seconds. Sometimes the app crashes. It's a new app. Unless AT&T bans or blocks it, I'm sure they'll improve it to make it less error prone. And, yes, you can run live video during a phone call, so you can live-narrate your video, although doing so may increase the chances that Knocking will crash. Only newer iPhones that support 3G can send video. Any iPhone or iPod Touch can receive it. Search the iTunes app store for "Knocking Video" to get it. Why Knocking is so significant First, the strange process that lead to Apple's approval of the app could hint at changes in the way that company deals with new app submission. According to the Internet, the app didn't adhere to Apple's strict, controversial and somewhat arbitrary rules for iPhone apps. It was rejected. The developer wrote an impassioned plea to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who personally intervened to get the app approved. Knocking works because it uses a "private" API, rather than one approved for 3rd-party developers. It's approval suggests that Apple may be willing in the near future to open some of these APIs up to some app developers, which could make the iPhone even more powerful. Also: Knocking is a baby step toward something long rumored: A future iPhone app with videoconferencing. With a second camera on the front of the iPhone, the device could offer an experience comparable to online chat via a PC or Mac. That could be yet another game changer in how people use their cell phones. I believe there's no way this feature will be introduced until the iPhone is rolled out on multiple carriers. I'm sure AT&T wouldn't enable or allow iPhone videoconferencing if they're the only carrier burdened by the load. They haven't even rolled out iPhone tethering yet. And finally, Knocking is significant because it's the kind of "networks effects" app that makes the iPhone so difficult to compete with for the likes of Microsoft, Palm, Google, RIM and the rest. We're seeing an increasing number of cool networked apps that require both parties to be on the iPhone. The more such apps appear, the more compelling it will be to develop exclusively or first on iPhone, and thereby accellerating the total dominance of the iPhone. Why this is great for digital nomads Knocking, and apps like it that may follow, has a gazillion uses for digital nomads. Namely: Live postcards. Instead of sending an old-and-busted paper postcard, or even an e-mailed iPhone picture, now you can "Knock" on the iPhone of a friend or family member and show them live streaming video. "Look at this sunset, mom!" Safety, evidence. Need a witness? You've always got several just a tap away. Business. Let's say you want to show a client something, or communicate visually to a co-worker. Just fire up Knocking, and show them. Imagine the applications for Real Estate. "I think I've found the perfect office space for your company. Look at this!" Connection to home. Knocking is useful as a one-directional videoconferencing system. That means your spouse can stream your kid's play to you live, and you can watch live as a loved one blows out their birthday candles. Knocking is an imperfect app that's usable now and may become indispensible later. If you use an iPhone 3G or 3GS, I recommend that you download and try it. They also have a free app called Knocking Live Pic Sharing, which does more or less the same thing, but with still photos instead of video.