Earlier this week, Sony introduced their Internet-based IVE (Internet Video Everywhere) phone service. Developed in conjunction with IP-based video collaboration and conferencing provider GlowPoint, Inc., IVE works by downloadable software that comes pre-configured on the company's Vaio BX laptops, or can be installed on other noetbook computers as well.
Oh, and you get a ten digit phone number as well, which, for $9.95 a month, offers enhanced features for calls to and from your PC to cell phones and other mobile devices.
An early iteration of IVE has been targeting business users since it was introduced in June. I guess Sony's wet dream is to have a virtual conference room full of Vaio users participating in video meets from remote locations. That's plausible. I've even participated in such conferences, and perhaps you have as well.
Still, I'm trying to understand just what is unique and important about IVE for consumers. I've never fully been convinced there is a mass market for Internet-delivered video telephony. Sure, it is kind of cool to see your significant other as they dial in from their hotel room, or even Uncle Ed as he talks to you from his den in Mesa, Arizona. But does that drive mass market adoption?
Unlike picture based cell phones- which allow you to pan, capture, send and receive images and short video clips of anything (well, almost anything) when you want, video phones have never really taken off in the consumer market. Not because the picture is pixelly, but because most people do not see the need for it.
And, unlike business to business calling, in which a presentation can be enhanced by a close-up of speakers or even documentation, consumer voice based conversation is generally not enhanced by simultaneous visuals from where your call is being placed from.
The telephony part of the offer is fine, but nothing special, either. It sounds like it was thrown in as a pre-emptive move against Skype, which is planning a big promotional blitz for its own video phone service momentarily.
For this reason, I'm convinced this consumer flavor of IVE is a move to sell more Vaios. It's all about an extra amenity that is supposed to make Vaio jump out at you. Might sell some notebooks, but not many.