I propose this as a lightweight initial “quick win” in achieving the 80/20 rule especially if we want to reduce the tech infrastructure burden initially (as is often the case) while troubleshooting quality and scaling up, before building what would be far larger features.
Having quick win milestones is ideal in software development of customer-facing apps like this for multiple reasons (reliable fallback if you need to pivot without wasting budget/effort, fast feedback on how people utilise and respond to a video product) so you are able to adapt as necessary early (it’s taken as a rule in software development that changes get more expensive the later you make them).
I love your idea as I’m a big fan of more video integration in dating apps. I personally prefer to see a video of someone before meeting up.
Reasons a lot of people are more comfortable meeting up once they’ve seen a video of someone:
A rough guage of physical attraction
A safeguard against being catfished
Body language compatibility, as non-verbal communication makes up the vast majority of our communication with people in person
Camera quality vs Lossy Compression
You mentioned that smartphones don't have great front cameras. The technology on them has actually greatly improved - they can even be used up to a semi-professional or professional capacity - quite a lot of professional YouTubers use phone cameras for vlogging.
A friend of mine who is a cameraperson and studied filmography was explaining this to me when I was considering setting up my own youtube channel on a budget.
The main limiting factor when recording is more often sound recording and also having sufficient lighting where you record. I go into more detail on microphones for different sound recording needs depending in this discussion on portable soundproof coverings.
It’s most likely the graininess you experienced in video call or sending videos is due to the lossy compression (which I also discuss in that above link though from a sound point of view), not the camera itself. (As an experiment, try video calling on different chat platforms to see the different compressions in action - I prefer to call friends on Google Duo over Telegram for this reason.)
This is because communications apps often prioritise handling multiple calls and maintaining connectivity over call quality as both compete for bandwidth when streaming, and similarly with file uploads prefer uploading smaller files over big ones.
Thus even if you’re able to get a professionally done video to upload as a file rather than doing a call you the app itself must not severely compress the file otherwise your efforts would be wasted. I suspect this is why many dating apps now have Instagram integration as they do not want to be bothered with managing photo and video quality when there are apps that do it better.
The solution to video, “personal” touch and quality:
My suggestion as a “quick win” is to allow people to send video notes as DMs. Grindr is an example of a dating app that already has this - there is the option to have video calls but also to send a short video note, similarly to what you can do on Telegram with either voice or video.
This is a quick, easy mechanism to reassure someone that they are talking to a real person who recorded them a personalised video responding to one of their questions, which also encourages platform safety.
Sending a video note is less pressure than a call. People can send a video note when they’re ready or make themselves look presentable, move to a better location or opt-out if they’re not up for it, which all reduce the pressure, time sensitivity and performance anxiety of taking calls, yet at the same time still give a more “natural” and personal sense to the interaction due to it being directed specifically at the person they’re talking to.
One mechanism that would be particularly important would be the ability to pause/review/replay your video note before sending it rather than automatically sending once you stop pressing record. This similarly helps alleviate the fears of being “live” on camera.
As a bonus, the app can use facial recognition tech to help you find the best angle and lighting to capture your video (similarly to how is done in a lot of KYC compliance apps which require you to take selfies that match your ID) and can even identify what contrasting colours look best against your skin in that lighting etc.
Maintaining Video quality:
There are several trade offs you can make to can still keep up video quality if you do this, rather than having to compress:
1) Time limit: I believe Grindr limits video notes to a minute long, which is one way of managing the media load potentially without compromising quality (although I do not know if they themselves do this to prioritise video quality or if they simply don’t want to handle big video files).
2) Wait X minutes, increasing: Another way would be ensuring that people cannot send more than one video note every 5 minutes and then grow those waiting times exponentially if people continue to spam calls. (This will help with traffic management but also will help weed out bots, which would also dissuade people from using the app in the first place particularly if they are spammy).
3) Receiver consents to receive videos or a maximum number of unviewed videos sent: If someone has not viewed your third or fourth video note the app could pause your sending video notes until the person actually views the latest ones or at least checks their messages.
Alternatively the app could ask the receiver if they want to view the video and only start uploading it and making it available for download from there - before that it is simply cached on the phone similar to an email in your outbox tray.
These would be mechanisms against to help reduce unnecessary traffic as well as preserving video quality, (also preventing spambots) which would also serve our needs economically - since the primary purpose of the app is a dating app not general communications you thus discourage its use for general purposes and remove the burden of the chat app having to be particularly good, keeping the focus on meeting new people rather than keeping stale interactions on a platform that isn’t designed to compete with full chat apps.