A New Day

Will new collaboration-space entrants mean the end of locked-in room devices?

I used to tell the joke that, if my iPhone had been a person, I’d have married it. (I stopped telling that joke when my wife legitimately got annoyed. She didn’t like the explanation that Siri was better at directions than she was.) For a techie like me, my smartphone was the ultimate device to keep with me at all times—a life changer. Yes, before the iPhone, the convenience and security of having a mobile phone with me all the time was nice; once they added apps and sensors, though, oh boy!

The iPhone changed so many things. I’d never become lost again, as it had a global positioning system (GPS) app. I’d never have to listen to a weather forecast again, as I could call up the weather radar whenever I needed it. I’d never have to print a boarding pass again, as I could grab the electronic version from the airline’s app. I’m sure those of you who use smartphones could make a list of your own benefits, chock full of how that platform has changed your life.

One of the best things about an app ecosystem is that a different device isn’t required for each function. I no longer need a calculator, a GPS or the device associated with any other included function. The smartphone simply utilizes the relevant app.

The smartphone was just as much of a miracle in my personal world of collaboration. I no longer require a “Brand C” telepresence system, as the app it made uses the shared screen, microphone and speaker in my smartphone. I no longer require a “Brand M” teams room, as the app it made also uses the shared resources of the device. I no longer require a “Brand Z” room, also for the same reasons. The apps—programmed and certified directly by each individual platform vendor—sit side by side on my one device. They all share the same I/O and user interface (UI), and they can all be called upon as required—one right after the other, if necessary.

The problem, of course, is the screen, measuring a whopping six whole inches. It is really only useful at arm’s length. The same goes for the microphones and speakers; they were designed for one individual’s use. All this doesn’t make for a great life-sized telepresence experience.

Well, as this year approaches its close, the world is changing yet again. The equivalent of these smart devices is coming to room collaboration systems. The industry has already somewhat experienced this in the form of the existing general-compute products; as I’ve mentioned before, however, I’m personally not a fan of the PC/Mac platform in this application. These excellent devices were designed for personal general computing—not public spaces—and there is not a consensus on their value versus their risk. (Admittedly, this is a source of public disagreement. Fans of these systems advocate for them as strenuously as I point out their flaws and risks.)

That aside, however, new room appliances are just now hitting the market, as the new year arrives, and they’re based on the same platform and concept that our smartphones are. Think of the value of a bigger, scalable, manageable, locked-down, enterprise-grade iPhone or Android sitting at the front of all our conference rooms. Call up the app designed by the platform of your choice and you have a certified experience from that provider, using the shared room’s display, speakers and microphones. If you live the reality of the vast majority of enterprises and have a call on a different cloud platform later that day, just launch its app, using the same shared I/O and UI.

The value of this room universality will be immeasurable to the users—not just in functionality, but also in breaking the chains of platform lock-in. If, for some reason, an organization becomes disappointed with its platform of choice—perhaps due to service or price—then the organization can switch to a different platform without having to forklift the room gear. Additionally, the transition between the two will be seamless, as this new class of room devices will allow both platforms to work side by side for as long as needed, along with all the other apps that make up the device’s ecosystem.

The platform providers will probably not like this reality at first. They will likely claim that their dedicated systems perform better than these new agnostic devices will—and that will likely be true, as some bespoke functions might not be fully emulated on the app. But when people say that a locked-down universal room appliance that uses side-by-side apps can’t be done, just pick up your smartphone (which already does this with ease) and slowly wave it back and forth in front of them. (Imagine you’re at a concert, asking for an encore.)

It’s truly approaching the end of the performance for locked-in room devices.

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