2018 was another epic year for collaboration platforms, with Zoom establishing itself as the new king and some exciting new players about to enter the market. Many think of conferencing and collaboration as mature markets where little innovation takes place. But we see time and again that this is not the case, that it is still a dramatically evolving space – with relatively new players such as Zoom and Bluejeans able to gain massive market share and disrupting established players such as Webex.
Why? I believe it’s because there is still so much room for improvement in the fundamentals – quality and reliability – as well as functionality. It’s why a provider like Zoom has managed to excel by possessing an unwavering commitment to reliability that you still don’t find on many platforms.
It’s easy to take such things for granted in 2019, but anyone who’s used even a handful of collaboration platforms can attest to the great variability in terms of quality of experience.
Incidentally, quality and reliability are two areas where Voxbone plays a big role in helping collaboration platforms. After all, 20-40% of attendees still join conferences by dialing in (or getting called out). It’s a particularly important channel in major emerging markets, while on-the-go or when at home in pyjamas. These days when you launch a new collaboration platform, you want to quickly and reliably cover the dial in/out aspects and move on to more exciting stuff. It’s why our CaaS approach is so attractive to players in this industry. And why the majority of leaders in Gartner’s 2018 Magic Quadrant for Meetings build their platforms with Voxbone. End of pitch 🙂
Once PSTN is out of the way, the differentiator is functionality. We all love the cool ‘marketable’ features such as VR plays, AI assistants or virtual backgrounds. However it’s core functionality, the basic things like scheduling and starting a meeting, that ensures the experience is smooth. Just think of the time wasted on one-hour calls setting up and waiting for participants. Even in these basic steps that we take for granted, I believe there’s still room for improvement.
With this little bit of context in mind, I wanted to share what’s on my wishlist for conferencing and collaboration in 2019. I’d love to hear from you if you know of any of these things that exist, are in development or have anything to add to the list!
More affordable room hardware
When cloud conferencing apps recommend “compatible hardware” they tend to mean either peripherals that connect to your laptop (not a good option if you have 2-3 people in the room) or room systems requiring a standalone PC. Although you can find excellent room systems under $3,000, there’s a huge gap in the market for something more affordable: sub $1,000 for a standalone device incorporating high-quality camera, mics and speakers, running conferencing software and plugging into a TV through HDMI. This shouldn’t be too complex to design and the need is certainly there for affordable, mini room systems.
Native support for smart TVs
Speaking of hardware that plugs into a TV, another cool option would be for conferencing apps to run natively on smart TVs. I’m not sure if today’s TVs have the necessary compute power, but there are certainly some CPU-hungry apps running on my Samsung TV, so it does seem feasible. And maybe that would compel TV manufacturers to build high-quality cameras into their sets (as a differentiator).
All these cameras and all these mics…
Staying with hardware a moment longer, a typical video conference often includes one or more meeting rooms, each with several participants who bring their own laptops. A group of laptops sitting together in the same physical space presents a real opportunity for improved user experiences. Working in combination, x cameras, y microphones and z speakers could do a much better job than a single set sitting at the end of the room. And for free! I’ve seen solutions combining speakers from multiple devices to create spatial sound, but nothing that does this for video and audio in the conferencing space.
Automatic optimization on the fly
Bandwidth is still a variable commodity when it comes to conference calls. You start a video call and your connection becomes spotty midway through. Sure, you’ll be notified that your connection is unstable. But manual action is required to remedy the situation (switching to a different WiFi hotspot or 4G, dialing in by phone, etc.). Wouldn’t it be awesome to have intelligence baked in that can decide automatically the best alternatives and when to switch in order to best optimize the call? To minimize disruption, it could ask the host for permission to put the call on hold while it re-optimizes the setup, calling participants by phone if necessary.
Proper integration of video and shared content
My last one for today. It’s something I’ve often felt frustrated by when using collaboration platforms: the overlay of content with participants’ video. Today, if I wish to share content, my only option is to start a screen share that relegates attendees’ video feeds to small video frames that are basically useless. I’d love to see providers tackling this in 2019 with innovative approaches to the mixing of speaker video with content. Think about how content is displayed around news anchors or during weather forecasts. This would probably require collaboration between conferencing platforms and presentation software or some sort of augmented reality solution, but it would certainly make for much more immersive and exciting experiences.
I’d be happy to hear if you’ve seen some of the above delivered by a solid collaboration platform (I’ve only tried a few of the mainstream ones) as well as the bells and whistles you’d like to see from your conferencing provider in 2019 and beyond?