Once in a while I come across something completely different in the world of visual collaboration. This is one of those times.
While almost every vendor of video technology has some significant differentiator to set it apart from the crowd, the Spin app has a completely different dynamic throughout its entirety. I spoke with CEO, Tom Engdahl, to try and understand what Spin (from Net Power & Light) is all about, how it works, their latest announcement, and their vision for the future.
To start with, Spin is best defined as a workspace with videoconferencing, as opposed to the typical videoconferencing app where the video is primary and the content is an addon. With Spin, the “base layer” is the content, the subject matter of the meeting, and video is one of several layers are added to enable the team to work with the underlying material. This is the direction we see collaboration tools heading. The work shouldn’t be an afterthought to communications. In fact, the entire purpose of communications is to enable productivity. To re-coin an old phrase, “It’s about the work, stupid!”
Another aspect of Spin which sets it apart from the competition is the fact that it is a mobile app first. In fact, the desktop version is still pending. This means that Spin was designed originally, and natively, for touch screens (unlike the typical VC app, which is a port from a desktop solution). This makes it very intuitive, and even fun, to use on your mobile device. I’ve been testing it on my iPad, and there was no learning curve whatsoever. Rather than the expected menu driven UI that we get from the common VC app, it has the swipe / pinch UI that we love to use on our touch screens.
The unique workflow is a little tricky to describe, so I suggest downloading it and playing with it yourself to see what I mean (it is free, so no risk involved). But the fact that it is designed from the ground up as a touch app allows for some very interesting, and clever, features. For example, each person in the conference appears as an individual window on top of the shared content. Each of these windows can be individually moved or resized with the familiar swipe/pinch movements.
What really makes it cool is that each participant’s volume is controlled by the size of their window. Do you have a loud mouthbreather in the meeting with a dog barking in the background making it impossible to hear the quiet talker that you want to listen to? Simply pinch down the loudmouth to a tiny thumbnail, and stretch out the quiet talker to full size. Problem solved. Each participant can individually control what, and who, they see, for a fully customized experience.
In addition to adding the videoconferencing windows on top of the content, there are collaboration tools such as basic drawing/sketching, text chat, and fun addons that let you throw tomatoes, shoot off fireworks, and other similar animations. While some of these features may be more for the friends and family gatherings, it shows the potential to work with your content in a collaborative manner. Another differentiator worth noting, and this may sound a bit odd, is that Spin is kinda fun to use. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
The quality of the experience is particularly impressive. But it made a lot of sense when Tom explained the origins of the platform. The team was originally building a tool for musicians to jam over the internet. This requires extremely low latency, and clearly the audiophiles on the team made sure the sound was above par for this type of application. The result is a surprisingly high quality collaborative experience.
Today’s announcement was regarding integrations with other collaborative tools such as Box, Dropbox, Citrix ShareFile, etc. Users can pull files from these resources into the bottom layer of the Spin application, allowing their teams to work collaboratively on them in real time. Again, at the end of the day, the reason we communicate is to collaborate, so expanding the toolset of potential applications vastly increases the value of the overall application.
This may seem to be, at first glance, primarily a consumer tool, ideal for hanging out with your buddies while watching a football game. However, Tom spent a good deal of time sharing actual uses cases with partners and customers in the field. One use that really impressed me was a partnership with an unnamed airline. Their mechanics use it to collaborate in real time with the technical experts while performing maintenance and repairs on aircraft. As someone who hates flying, it is a little reassuring to know that the experts who can’t be at the job site in person, are able to view and assist those performing the actual work.
Additional use cases were medical (i.e. your doctor can chat with your radiologist for real time interpretation of scans), education, customer service, legal, translation, and others. The platform can be customized with specific overlays suited for each vertical. Keep in mind, these aren’t potential use cases we are talking about, these are actual Spin clients and customers using the platform for legitimate business uses today.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the internet of things. A big part of that is expanding the use of video beyond the old boardroom scenario, to solve new problems in the field. These are the types of applications that Spin is looking to serve, and already serving.
It’s great to see a different approach to visual collaboration, and particularly one that isn’t different for the sake of being different, but is designed to meet specific needs and solve specific problems. I will be keeping Spin on my personal iPad, and looking forward to watching the continuing development of this platform.