What Airtime needs: A wish list
The new video chat service from the founders of Napster needs a few key fixes before CNET's Rafe Needleman can recommend it.
Confession time:, when it launched Tuesday.
This was after I was prepared to hate it. A little more than a day later, I've settled in the middle. I'm ignoring it. I wish it was better, and until it is, I can't really recommend it. But it has potential. Here's what it needs.
Friends-only mode (Updated!)
Airtime is a very good person-to-person video phone app for connecting to Facebook friends. I like it better than Facebook's. But if you run it, you're always visible to the system for random connections from people who might want to chat with you.
There are plenty of times when you want your friends to be able to reach you, but no one else. There needs to be a way to disable random incoming messages.
Update: An Airtime spokesperson wrote to me to clarify. "There is a de facto friends-only mode when you are on the service but don't hit the start button. Friends can call you and you can dial friends, but no random users can contact you." I believe she means the "Talk to someone" button. Regardless, this is good to know. I wish it was more clear in the app, but this is an easy fix.
How can you have a modern communication app that only runs on Web browsers that have Flash? Come on. This thing needs apps.
Speaking of which, it also needs a browser version that does not use Flash, since the Flash video streamer (which is always on, by the way, when the site is on-screen) is a CPU hog that will kill your battery and switch on your fans. Steve Jobs was right. Flash is a mess.
At the very least, Airtime should turn off the camera when you're not on a call. There's no reason to leave it running.
When someone calls you in Airtime, you have to disconnect the call you're on to take it. How quaint. It's the era of mosh-pit video calling. Especially for anything related to work. Airtime needs a multi-party feature.
For Airtime to to not watch me
Finally, Airtime, I appreciate that you're trying to protect me from random body parts being flashed at me, but it's not worth the tradeoff to know that you're monitoring my conversations.
MSNBC reports that only still images taken from chats between people who are not friends are monitored, but even so, I don't like the idea that some "trained professional" (uh huh) is monitoring my social activity. And since Airtime's camera is always on when the app is running, even if you're not in chat, I have to wonder who is seeing me just sitting here, writing my little story. Hi, Airtime. And Bye.
Another clarification from Airtime: "Images are only monitored by a human if they are flagged for review for being potentially inappropriate and a potential safety issue."
In the non-dealbreaker department, I'll also add one more thing:
Interface to Skype or other video conferencing products
It took years for the SMS networks to interconnect. Instant message platforms still aren't. Video conferencing apps aren't even close. Airtime and Facebook and Skype don't work together, even though they're all linked together by business and tech deals, slightly. It's time that modern communication platforms stop asking users to juggle multiple apps. It's just messy.