01/18/2012 01:14 EST | Updated 03/19/2012 05:12 EDT

Dressing inappropriately or sneaking snacks not ideal for mobile video calls

MONTREAL - It's not always better to be seen than to be heard, especially on your smartphone.

Sneaking a snack, wearing inappropriate clothes or multitasking in overdrive aren't necessarily suited to video calls on smartphones, which allow the person on the other end of the phone to see you.

"You can't get away with that stuff when you're actually on a video call," technology analyst Duncan Stewart said.

"We don't want to be seen," said Stewart, director of research technology, media and telecom at Deloitte Canada.

Although mobile video calls are projected to grow substantially in the next five years, fewer than 47 million users worldwide made this kind of call in 2011 and they're not replacing voice calls, tech trends firm ABI Research said.

Stewart said the study means that fewer than one in five callers globally has ever used their smartphones for video calling.

"Our view is that this isn't something, fundamentally, that consumers want and we know this because there have been video phones since the 1960s and they keep not taking off," Stewart said from Toronto.

Mobile phone companies like LG, Samsung, HTC and Nokia have smartphones with video calling functions. There's also Skype's video calling as well as Tango and Fring video calling applications.

And then there's Apple's FaceTime, which allows users to make video calls from their iPhone to someone else's iPhone, iPad 2, iPod touch, or Mac over Wi-Fi.

Apple, which has driven the popularity of both touchscreen mobile phones and tablet computers, could also help video calls take off.

"It's going to take somebody like Apple with FaceTime to demonstrate that it works in practice," said ABI Research senior analyst Aapo Markkanen.

Social reasons prevent callers from wanting to be "seen" on their smartphones, said London-based Markkanen.

But businesses and some families might want to make use of the service.

"The most typical use case might be a family with a small child calling grandparents, or anything that involves expressing feelings," Markkanen said. "That's easier over video."

Business meetings can be conducted with video calls and employees working remotely in the field can use the function to connect with experts at the office, he said. A journalist could send a live video stream without needing a camera crew present through a video call, he added.

"The use cases will be built around intimacy and productivity."

Stewart said while employees such as insurance claims agents could use video calls for their work in the field, video calls for business meetings can done online with a personal computer.

"Why would holding up a smartphone be better?" he asked.

ABI Research's Markkanen also said technical challenges remain for video calls because different smartphones with video calling can't interact with each other.

"You can't really place a call from Apple's FaceTime and receive it on Tango or Skype or Fring."

Consumers also don't want to pay for this type of data-intensive call and expect the service to be bundled in with their monthly mobile phone plan, he said.

Advanced wireless networks are necessary for making video calls, ideally networks with Long Term Evolution technology, which is now the global standard for high-speed networks that move data such as video, Markkanen said.

Deloitte's Stewart said even with technological improvements, video calls won't be seen as essential. Stewart, who makes annual predictions about where technology is headed, said he correctly predicted last year that consumers would not take a shine to these kinds of calls.

"For 90 per cent of users, they don't want to use it even once a year."