A market segment that didn’t really exist until a few months ago is now about to get hot as Zoom.us jumps in with a very compelling new offering.
Zoom 3.0 is now available and offers a number of very interesting new features. Perhaps the most notable is what they call ZoomPresence (a nod to Telepresence) which is a version of their software designed to run on Apple hardware in the conference room. We spoke with Nick Chong from Zoom to get the scoop.
The Meeting Room Still Rules
The meeting room system has always had a place of importance in the videoconferencing industry, and in any videoconferencing environment. Originally, videoconferencing was strictly a meeting room affair, as the equipment was expensive and required a high level of maintenance and support. This resulted in video equipment being one of the “shared resources” that tend to live in the common areas of an office, such as the boardroom. Now that VC solutions are affordable, flexible, and readily available on our desktops and mobile devices, some have expected the meeting room video system to diminish in popularity and use. However, it turns out that meeting room VC still has an important role in our overall VC environments.
It is a matter of workflow at the end of the day. The typical collaborative work session has several team members working together in person, with a few remote resources dialing in. The obvious example from my time at law is a law firm’s case rounds. Attendance by all attorneys is mandatory, but some lawyers will always be out of the office for one reason or another. The meeting takes place in the boardroom, with a few people calling in, traditionally via audio. Whether you are there in person, or not, the meeting room is the hub.
Therefore it is no surprise that some video interop cloud services report that up to 80% of their virtual meetings include a traditional meeting room system. With meeting rooms still being crucial, the knife of VC competition now cuts both ways. Not only are the hardware vendors stepping into the cloud world, the software vendors are stepping into the meeting room. Let’s take a look at what ZoomPresense, the newest meeting room solution to enter the fray, has to offer.
The first notable thing about the ZoomPresence solution is that it is the first Apple based VC room solution, designed to run on a Mac Mini or Mac Pro, compared to competing offerings generally run on an Intel Nuk or small PC. Without getting into the big Apple v MS debate, it is obviously nice for Apple fans to have an option based around their favorite platform.
Using your choice of peripherals, or going with Zoom’s recommended setup, the ZoomPresence software provides a business class room experience with strong interoperability to other VC platforms and codecs. The new offering is a lot more than a simple rebrand of their desktop software, as it has a number of features designed to optimize a room based meeting, such as triple screen support (shown above), large meeting support, calendar integration, etc.
One of the cooler features is the control methodology. A traditional meeting room solution has a remote control device. With ZoomPresence, your iPad becomes the control device, automatically syncing and connecting to the room system. Zoom really tried to keep a Jobs-esque aesthetic to the control layout and workflow, as if they want to create the Apple VC room system that Apple never got around to creating.
Perhaps the most disruptive element of this new offering is the price. For $99 a year, this one room system could be the hub of your entire VC network, compared to thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars, for a traditional hardware room system.
The Rest of Zoom 3.0
ZoomPresence is but one element of a massive platform upgrade with dozens of new features. Another new power feature is Zoom’s new Group Messaging capability. The typical workflow often starts with a simple instant message. As the conversation gets more productive, another person, or multiple people, are invited to this IM session. Pretty soon the ideas are flowing so fast that the meeting needs to escalate from IM to video. This is the way the leading UC platforms enable us to collaborate and work together and now Zoom has replicated this with its Group Messaging capability. The new feature is particularly robust, offering group text, images, push to talk audio, contact list consolidation, and perhaps most importantly “presence”, on all on desktop and mobile devices.
Other new features include telephone dial out, allowing Zoom users to use it as a VoiP solution and replace their landline. More personalization is available (i.e. custom meeting room URLs in addition to custom account URLs). New, more robust, webinar support has been added, allowing users to create a brandable webinar with a custom registration portal. More powerful administrative features have also been added, allowing admins to control whether individual users or groups will be allowed to record, disable encryption, etc. These types of control features are key for government, or other secure, communication networks.
While the new features are too many to detail here, one of my favorites is the ability to support Apple Airplay as though it was an Apple TV. While Zoom was previously able to share images from an iPad connected to a meeting, this is an entirely new, and far more powerful, feature. The iPad is not a party to the meeting, it is being mirrored into the meeting . The workflow is very simple, and the result is very powerful. From within a Zoom meeting, you select the standard “Share” button that you would use to share screen from your desktop. A new option in the share menu lists mobile devices. When you select that, your wireless network will let your iPad know that AirPlay is available. Then you simply click AirPlay on your iPad and your will see your iPad mirrored on your desktop, and everyone else in the Zoom meeting will see it as well.
This isn’t a screenshare, the meeting participants will see everything you do on your iPad. Not just powerpoints or PDFs, but full running applications. As far as I know, Zoom is the only VC vendor to currently support this feature. This makes Zoom an ideal solution for app developers to demo apps before they are available for download. This is one of those situations where a video is worth a thousand words, so please see the quick demo we put together above.
The official announcement of Zoom 3.0 is scheduled for tomorrow, so expect to see a full list of all the new features. Zoom has been one of the hottest, and fastest growing, solutions in our space, and this new wave of capabilities will make their existing customers very happy, and keep them on the short list for SMB organizations looking for an affordable way to get into the VC game.