So, Apple is billing Facetime as though it is a revolutionary technology. I'm not going to ask you whether you think it is, as that is clearly a subjective question. What I will ask instead is how does it compare to normal video calling. Is there anything new that hasn't been done before?
As for your question, Is there anything new that hasn't been done before, then one could be generous and say that the no-account-required and it-just-works is quite nice, as is the elegant use of front or rear cameras and the ability to switch between them, and the automatic landscape/portrait modes. That's quite slick. But it's not a competition-killer.
On the whole, Facetime is the typical Apple feature -- very polished, but a limited feature-set, and only available to users on the exact same platform (in this case, only iPhone 4's, iPad 2's and Macs). That alone limits the usefulness of the app quite a bit.
For general-purpose video calling, there are general-purpose apps like Skype which do it better, and which even work over 3G (if you're lucky), and which aren't limited to specific Apple-only devices.
I'd recommend Skype over Facetime any day.
(Notice I didn't comment on the revolutionary issue either.)
Entirely new? No - not really, but the quality is quite acceptable (I'd say it's better than most Skype video calls I've had) and it's extremely painless to use. It's also at the present time far more limited in audience (only iPhone 4's, iPad 2's and Macs) than normal video calling.
You can think of it as video calling built right into the OS with software that doesn't require hoops (no log in required) to jump through to use it.
You're obviously well aware of the long history of video calling implementations to ask this question, so
- Having an idea is trivially easy.
- Implementing it well is hard.
- Implementing it so you don't get sued is even harder.
- Driving substantial user growth or taking over user share in adopting your implementation is the ultimate challenge.
Apple's hype and I would presume most non-hater's hope is that they are shooting for no less than #4 above. If you consider implementation and support costs of a video chat system as well as voice and picture quality, it's hard to say anyone is beating them at #2 either. One could easily see the desktop client catching up to Skype in short order but no-one is even close for mobile devices and two way video.