AT&T has done itself no favors with its fudged response to rumors of an extra fee in order to use FaceTime over 3G connections on devices running iOS 6. Talk that the carrier would levy extra data charges if users wanted to take advantage of Apple's increased FaceTime flexibility - so far limited to WiFi connections - prompted an uproar of pre-emptive complaints that AT&T might put a financial block in the way of iPhone and iPad functionality. But are we really on the precipice of a groundswell of video calling, or are we simply taking this opportunity to be angry at a carrier for daring to charge us money?
Apple's handling of FaceTime has been shoddy, it has to be said. The company originally promised to open the system up to third-parties, making it a cross-platform service rather than limiting it solely to its own iOS and Mac clients. That hasn't happened, and beyond revealing 3G support in the upcoming iOS 6 back at WWDC 2012, Apple has been quiet on where, exactly, FaceTime is going.
Leaving out carrier-specific details at the WWDC keynote is a good example of that, though Apple isn't done any favors by AT&T's famed reluctance to commit to anything until the last minute. Going by the error messages popping up on devices already running the iOS 6 beta, it's looking very likely that AT&T will be demanding another tithe for those wanting to use the data they've already paid for to make FaceTime 3G calls - on top of mandatory data package fees and, if required, tethering add-ons.
Exactly how much that will cost - if, indeed, it happens at all - remains to be seen. AT&T could go for a pay-per-use fee, either on a per-call basis (say, $0.50 per FaceTime 3G call you make, regardless of length) or based on data consumption. Or, it could opt for a set fee each month for blanket FaceTime 3G calling; say, $10 more on top of your existing data package.
[aquote]How much is "too much"?[/aquote]
Is $10 too much to ask for the convenience of not using, say, Skype and instead relying on Apple's streamlined alternative? Would $5 be acceptable? What if AT&T said you could make as many FaceTime calls over 3G as you like, as long as you also upgrade to a tethering package? How much is "too much"?
Listen to the current crop of complaints, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that Apple gadget users have been crying out for a video calling, but that the prospect of AT&T fees is going to yank the rug out from under it. Apple hasn't released usage figures for FaceTime - perhaps indicative that it hasn't exactly set the world alight, given Apple loves nothing more than loudly proclaiming the numerical evidence of its successes - but is the current lack of 3G support really the blockade, or is it the fact that video calling really just doesn't rate highly on the priority list of most?
What does rate strongly is the suspicion that fat-cat carriers are preparing to squeeze yet more fees out of us every month. Even if we don't want to use a feature, nothing enrages us like the possibility that someone might want to charge us for it. So, don't conflate anger over the possibility of AT&T plan changes with a real appetite for video calling services. Sometimes, subscribers just like an opportunity to blow off steam.