The last couple days have been full of news and it’s time to write about it! Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting headlines for videoconferencing and discuss the implications:
Skype, which keeps claiming to be a business conferencing tool but isn’t, hired Tony Bates to be CEO. Tony Bates was formerly in charge of Cisco’s enterprise unit. If this doesn’t look like a firm commitment to move from a “desktop share” that is actually just a rasterized screenshot to an actual collaboration toolkit, I don’t know what does. Keep in mind, though, that making the adjustment from a consumer-optimized calling product to a business-optimized collaboration product will take a lot of time and upheaval.
Cisco, on the other hand, is moving into the consumer space. As noted here before several times, Cisco has a habit of not creating videoconferencing products that encourage adoption, expand the marketplace, and advance the value of video for the end users. Instead they create expensive luxury toys. The most recent example is the ūmi (pronounced “you me”—get it?), a set top rig that provides 1080p telepresence from your living room.
Granted, it’s a clever name (I’ll discuss the Cius—”see us”—below), but like telepresence in general, it’s something that doesn’t make sense for anyone but rich folk that want another toy to gather dust. There are two reasons for this: 1) It’s priced far too high for the general public. At $600, it’s twice the cost of your game console and possibly more than your TV. With an additional $25 a month for the service, that makes the first year’s total cost $900! That’s exceptionally hefty considering…2)…that people just don’t communicate this way. People have been conditioned to consider their TVs as entertainment centers. Games, movies, TV…and now YouTube, etc. Outside the first few uses–after which the novelty will wear off–people will not want to tie up the family’s TV so that Joey can talk to Grandma via video…especially since Joey can talk to her on the phone. Look how difficult it has been to drive adoption of video calling AT THE COST POINT OF FREE with Skype and VSee! Even Skype acknowledges most Skype calls are AUDIO-ONLY. This is because for family catching up, it’s both easier and less intrusive to use the phone.
However, there are people who buy Bentleys but then also buy Hondas because they don’t want the Bentley’s door dinged in the grocery store parking lot. There will be some sales of the ūmi, but only amongst a certain group, and they probably won’t use it after a couple months. (For the record, if I ever buy a Bentley, I’m driving it everywhere.)
THAT BEING SAID, I think the Cisco Cius (“see us”) is actually pretty clever. Now, I know the Cius is actually old news, but this is probably the best move I’ve seen from Cisco regarding their telepresence offerings. The Android-powered, videoconferencing-optimized, enterprise-integrated slate will come with a hefty $1000 price tag. Reread the first part of the last sentence and that price tag will make sense for many corporations. Unlike the typical telepresence offerings, it actually understands the need for collaboration as something that joins you in your work rather than being a room you have to go to.
Seeing how many much less expensive slates and netbooks are out there, and with increasing power and better camera, it will be interesting to see if the Cius also remains an expensive toy for an elite group or actually increases the market by introducing a new use case to a new user class.
Meanwhile, we’ll continue to sit back and watch these two giants, neither of which has really optimized their products for their intended audiences, prepare to slug it out while we quietly assert ourselves.