Blog/20130718 video calls with your kids
1 Video calls - the simple way (mark 2)
1.1 ... and short of it
The essence of this: If you are looking for a simple way in which your parents (or grand-parents) can video call with you or with your kids, where one party needs to have no ICT skills whatsoever, here's a possible solution:
- Android 4.2.2 (on a tablet, such as the Google Nexus 7, ~ £160, or on a Google Nexus 4)
- Skype for Android (version as of 10 July 2013)
- Autorun for Skype 
(Obviously this may work for other versions of Android, other devices, other versions of skype, but I've tested this on Android 4.2.2 on Google Nexus 4 and 7.)
Skype options allow auto-answering of calls, and to answer those with video as well. Importantly, when a skype call comes in, the screen lock of the Android tablet doesn't stop the call being accepted. Thus the tablet just needs to be turned on (when Autorun for Skype will launch Skype), and is thus ready to receive calls.
So one party needs to do nothing but turn on the tablet, and wait for the call. The call automatically goes full screen, with video. The only issue with this is turning the tablet back off after calls, but it's an option to leave it in stand-by permanently, plugged in, possibly in a cradle.
1.2 The long ...
The above solution is "mark 2". In an earlier version, about three years ago, I had used a linux nettop computer, connected to a TV, so use Skype. This was just about possible, but required some scripting and use of the skype API, e.g. to make incoming calls full screen. While linux allows for remote administration, in practice this didn't really work out, because of the poor bandwidth available. There were also often issues with linux not being able to restart after a power failure, which made the system not quite maintenance free. Moreover, the audio setup never quite worked out, both in terms of the settings (which I am sure would have been fixable), but more importantly also because of the poor audio of the webcam and location of the TV speakers.
We stuck with this solution until now, because at times it did work out. However, often it led to frustration, when the calls didn't work out.
The tablet based solution seems somewhat neater, but we'll need to see how it fares in practice.
1.3 ... and a quick rant.
It's a real shame that smart phones don't come with simplified user interfaces, to allow for other users that just want something simple. The people making http://biglauncher.com seem to have realised this! I haven't tried this out yet, but it looks quite promising (if it indeed goes far enough to simplify the interface).
2013-07-18 | Back to blog|