Never Mind The Quality


As I rarely fail to point out, I’ve been in the videoconferencing industry a long time. Over the years, I’ve talked endlessly about the importance of quality.

I was wrong.

I started with the idea that quality was a one-way street. Once you experienced something better, like a business class airline seat or Blu-ray DVD, you would struggle to go back. I was wrong.

That doesn’t mean quality doesn’t matter. It just means it only matters a little bit.

Now before I go further, let me define quality. For the purposes of this article, I’ll define it as the quality of the individual call. (i.e. the number of pixels, the color fidelity, the frame rate, latency)

These things do matter, but many players in the industry have perhaps lost sight of what really matters in pursuit of an ever higher quality call.

So, if I’ve been wrong, what does matter and why?

Users have to believe the technology is going to work – ALL THE TIME. The vast majority of business technology users couldn’t care less how the technology works. It could be a bowl of warm tapioca for all they care. They have an actual job to do that has nothing to do with technology. They don’t think it’s cool. It needs to work – period.

The vast majority of business people have never used videoconferencing. They’ve managed their entire careers with crappy 3.1Khz audio on a 4lb box with a handset on their desks. Pretty much ANYTHING is an upgrade. However, they’re unlikely to try using a technology they don’t believe to be reliable.

To be useful, the technology needs to be trusted to work faultlessly.

Ease of Use
As Jerry Seinfeld and I have both stated before, people are more afraid of public humiliation than they are of death. So, the chances of a typical business user being prepared to “have a go” at initiating a videoconferencing call in front of their colleagues, clients, and suppliers is practically zero.

For years, room-based videoconferencing suppliers have stated that the user interface on the room-based technologies is better than desktop devices. Their main reasoning being it’s simpler and a lean back (rather than lean forward) experience. I’ve come to the conclusion that’s poppycock. Users want things that are familiar, not easy.

Plenty of people used Word Perfect 5.0 in 1990 and didn’t have a problem with it at all. Once a user interface is learned, users’ confidence increases and they’re much more likely to experiment and use it. Even more importantly, they can try it in the privacy of their own offices or homes. This allows users to get the hang of it before that important meeting.

Familiarity beats cool, every, single time

The Buyers are Not the Users
Very rarely is the specifier of the technology the same group of people as the user community it was intended for. Many of us with teenage children know the difference between a specifier and a user. Every 16-year-old car user wants an F-150 or a BMW M3, but most get a Toyota Corolla.

Toyota’s are often thought of as the most reliable, sensible, and boring cars ever made. They’re purchased by sensible people who don’t want a puddle of oil on the driveway or a phone call from a stranded teenager at 2am. IT departments have a similar purchasing pattern. They’re not interested in the highest speed or the coolest looks. Their goal is less complaints from users and to NEVER get a call about it. Ecstatic users is beyond the wildest dreams of IT departments.

IT departments go to work to not get fired.

Want evidence? Think about the last time you called to thank your IT department when everything went right. Done it? Have you heard of anyone who has? Ever? Thought not.

Somebody to Love
Users just want to communicate with everyone else. The look of incomprehension when told that services or devices are incompatible is real. Additionally, having to check that the other party even has a videoconferencing-capable device is still real. Luckily, this is going away thanks to Logitech, Skype, Google, Apple, and a bunch of others seeding the market with tools at a scalable price point.

Salespeople Love Cool Features
Salespeople love showing off new features. That’s why it’s a lot more interesting to sell an F-150 Raptor, than it is to sell a Toyota Corolla. Selling reliability is dull. Every salesperson wants to leave the client agog with the quality and amazed by how cool their technology is. I fully understand that. However, many times the technology has a brief period of use and after a few embarrassing moments, it gets quietly forgotten. Videoconferencing is about the only technology I know of where this doesn’t happen. I’ve never heard of a client say that they tried audio or web conferencing, but after a short buzz of activity, it simply stopped being used.

That being said, there are two areas in our industry that may contradict this trend – telepresence and HD videoconferencing.

Telepresence has ultimately been a failure, simply because the cost of ownership was so high that it couldn’t scale. Having no one to call can put a very serious damper on the utilization of any technology. Also, many of these systems weren’t actually high definition. The HP Halo was 480p. The Teliris was often even lower quality than that. What many users liked about telepresence wasn’t the quality of the call so much as the white glove experience. One in which they didn’t have to know anything about the technology and could simply get on with their meetings.

HD Videoconferencing
Very few users experience true HD videoconferencing. Most room-based endpoints don’t have the capability to produce 1080p images. IT departments are unwilling to give users the bandwidth. Very few cloud providers offer it as part of their service. Very few cloud suppliers even mention the quality they offer and the users haven’t even noticed. HD videoconferencing (720p at 30fps) was first shown in 2005. Over 10 years later, the vast majority of users still don’t experience that level of quality and it seems no one cares.

Today, the videoconferencing industry is changing. Users are simply looking for something better than web conferencing and a telephone. The solution needs to work every time and not embarrass them to death. As the market moves from a push sale to a pull one, the bells and whistles become less important. The most important selling points today are ease of use, ubiquity, and reliability.

It’ll be interesting to see which manufacturers embrace the Toyota model and which keep pushing the Raptor.

It might not be a soaring vision, but those suppliers who work that out are going to do very well. Vendors trying to sell F-150 Raptor’s to folks who simply want their kids to get to school and back alive, less so.


About Author

Simon Dudley is a leading authority on the power of technology to change what success in business looks like. He helps businesses understand these changes, along with the consequences and advantages. With over 25 years in the technology sector, his background includes sales, engineering, product marketing, brand marketing, and design. Drawing from that diverse background, Simon is able to bring a dynamic perspective to everything he does. Simon is currently Chief Contrarian at Excession Events, along with being a sought after public speaker and Wired Magazine contributor. The opinions expressed in Simon’s commentary are his own, and are not representative of Let’s Do Video.



    I agree with 90% of what you say here Simon, however i’m interested to understand your section on “Somebody to Love” and how you believe the likes of Apple, Google and Skype are assisting interoperability, rather that causing a major challenge by creating islands and not following standards?

    I actually believe these three solutions are doing somewhat the opposite of what you describe here – rather than making solutions work nicely with one another, they are playing the game of “everyone must join on our team and use our technology only” – Google really only works with Google, Apple, they are completely closed to anything other than Apple, and Skype/S4B is the big boy in the video industry that really doesn’t want to communicate with anyone else apart from itself, and even then, they can make that a challenge! The only time I’ve been able to FaceTime from my Android phone was through an Android emulation of the FaceTime app, and to be honest, it didn’t really go to plan… 😉

    Yes, they may be offering tools at a scalable price point, and yes, everyone could communicate with everyone in the manor you describe here IF everyone was using one single tool, but actually the only services and devices not compatible with the rest of the video world (whether legacy, current, or future, if everyone continues to keep implementing their own protocols, versions and standards), or each other, are these ones you describe here.

    I’m very interested in your thoughts here Simon, i’m certain you have a real reason for these points, and would love to hear your comments on this!

    • Emily,

      The point with the products like Google Hangouts, Facetime, Skype and the host of others out there is that they are effectively free to the user. The users have voted with their feet and decided that they are uninterested in standards, and in IT deciding what is best for them. Users decide for themselves (or their clients and suppliers do) what is best. That may vary from business to business and even meeting to meeting. Users don’t even think about using different tools for different meetings.

      Video Conferencing is proving to be much less like telephony, and much more like Instant Messaging. Download the app and away you go is the order of the day, not an unchanging, rigid and incredibly out of date system like telephony.


    Thanks for replying Simon. Sorry it’s such a time to replying!

    I agree, however my point really is that if you are using FaceTime, you just have no way to call someone on an Android phone with it, which is interoperability at it’s worst, not it’s best, in my opinion.

    “The look of incomprehension when told that services or devices are incompatible is real”… yes, this is exactly what the pro.VC systems may do, but the likes of Facetime & Hangouts are causing this look of incomprehension even more – we can’t really say that they are solving this any more than we can say that “the meeting room is compatible because we have one of every Video Conferencing codec installed” – (of course, i’m stripping out the cost side of the argument here).

    Yes, we can have 3 or 4 different applications, and it’s pretty simple to switch between different things for different calls, but as a user, i’d of course much rather have one, free application, that does call everything, so I don’t need to always know which application the far end has running before I can call them. I come across this in my personal life all the time – trying to explain to someone that they need to use something different on their iPhone to be able to speak to our friend in Germany on their Android, taking 20 minutes to describe the process via IM, sending screenshots, and them still wondering why it’s not working… “YOU’RE STILL TRYING TO USE FACETIME!!!”… and by the way, these are the people the world calls “tech savvy” – we’re millennials, grew up in the computer age, but unfortunately the world of apps & non-IT knowledge is in my opinion in many ways creating much larger islands in technology between the “big three” rather than solving it. But I think your point stands in that actually, if the user doesn’t care they are on this island, then it doesn’t actually matter.

    Yes, I really do hope that VC continues to move towards the IM side, rather than as you say, the incredibly out of date ways of telephony. As a user in the consumer world, and a provider in the professional world, the two sides need to combine, be smarter, not fight the user and force unfriendly technology, but actually develop the professional tools to complement the consumer tools much more readily. But whilst there are company networks, policies, firewalls & knowledge required, there will always be a cost involved, and free solutions will always have their limits in this professional world.

    Great to chat Simon, thanks again as always for providing me with food-for-thought on topics I could strongly debate from both sides of the coin if needed – It seems to be my subconcious way of ensuring I appreciate how everyone may look, think & understand a situation!

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