As simple as it may sound, one of the hottest topics in the modern workplace is figuring out how to best collaborate with your co-workers. Given the preponderance of highly capable smartphones, the ubiquity of available webcams and other video cameras, and a host of software applications specifically designed to enhance our co-working efforts, you would think it would be a straightforward problem to solve. But, in fact, companies are expending a good amount of time, effort and money trying to figure out how to make it all work. It’s not that the individual products have specific issues but getting multiple pieces to work together consistently and easily in a large environment turns out to be harder and more complicated than it first appears.
Part of the challenge is that video is becoming a significantly larger part of overall inter- and intra-office communications. Thanks to several different factors including faster, more reliable networks, a growing population of younger, video-savvy workers, and enhanced emphasis on remote collaboration, the idea of merely talking to co-workers, customers and work colleagues is almost starting to sound old-fashioned. Yet, despite the growth in video usage, just under 5% of conference rooms are currently video enabled, presenting a large opportunity for companies looking to address those unmet needs. Plus, our dependence on smartphones has reached deep into the workplace, creating new demands for products that can let smartphone-based video and audio calls be more easily integrated into standard office workflows.
A number of companies are working to address these issues from both a hardware and software perspective, including Poly, the combined company formed by last year’s merger of Polycom and Plantronics, Zoom, the popular videoconferencing platform, and, of course, Microsoft, among many others. At this year’s Zoomtopia conference, Poly took the wraps off a new line of low-cost dedicated videoconferencing appliances, the Poly Studio X30 and Studio X50, both of which can natively run the Zoom client software, as well as other Open SIP-compliant platforms without the need for a connected PC.
The soundbar-shaped devices are built around a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SOC, run a specialized version of Google’s Android, and feature a 4K-capable video camera, an integrated microphone array, and built-in speakers. In conjunction with the Zoom application, they allow organizations to easily create a Zoom Room experience in a host of different physically different size spaces, from huddle rooms to full-size conference rooms. Plus, because they’re standalone, they can be more easily managed from an IT perspective, offer more consistent performance, and can avoid the challenges end users face if they don’t have the right versions of communication applications when connecting to USB-based video camera systems.
Leveraging the compute horsepower of the Qualcomm SOC, both devices also include several AI-driven software features called PolyMeeting AI, all of which are designed to improve the meeting experience. Optimizations for audio include the ability to filter out unwanted background noises, while new video features offer clever ways of providing professional TV production-quality video tweaks, doing things such as focusing on the current speaker, seeing overall meeting context and more.
Poly is also working with Microsoft’s Teams platform in another range of products called the Elara 60 series that essentially turn your smartphone into a deskphone. Most versions of the Elara include both an integrated speakerphone, a wireless Bluetooth headset, and an integrated Qi wireless charger that can be angled to provide an easy view of your smartphone’s display. By simply placing your smartphone on the device and pairing it via Bluetooth, you can get the equivalent of a desktop phone experience with the flexibility and mobility of a smartphone. Plus, thanks to the integration with Microsoft Teams, there’s a dedicated single Teams logoed button that lets you easily initiate or join a Teams-driven call or meeting—a nice option for companies standardizing on Teams as their unified communications platform.
Of course, the reality is that most organizations need to support multiple UC platforms because even if they make their own choice for internal communications, there’s no way to know or control what potential customers and partners may be using. Given the diversity and robustness of several different platforms choices—including Zoom and Teams, but also Blue Jeans, GoToMeeting, Webex, Ring Central and Skype among others—what most organizations want is a software-based solution that would allow them to easily switch to whatever platform was demanded for a given call or meeting. While that may seem somewhat obvious, the reality is that most videoconferencing products came from the AV industry, which was literally built on decades of proprietary platforms.
Thankfully, we’re reaching the point where it’s now possible to build collaboration and videoconferencing devices based on standard operating systems, such as Android, and then simply run native applications for each of the different communications platforms that are required. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s clear based on some of these new offerings that we are getting much closer.