Touch & Collaborate

After many years as an education market boon and an enterprise bust, the interactive display is beginning a resurgence in popularity. Large firms such as Microsoft, Cisco and Google have now stepped into the space, and they take their place alongside a number of existing players and challengers. Will these new systems finally catch on for widespread enterprise use, or are we at the beginning of another “hype cycle” that eventually will leave us where we were, with interactive displays covering a relatively small niche where they are of benefit?

Whether you call them smartboards, interactive displays, electronic whiteboards or by the new handle, “immersive collaboration displays,” touch-enabled large-format displays have been around in one form or another since the early 1990s. These devices allow the visual exchange of ideas (drawings, sketches, annotations) to be extended to people outside the meeting room, and to be saved, distributed and in some cases continued (the latest tech permits a distributed sketch to continue to be worked on as if it was the original, erasing and modifying pre-drawn lines at a later time). Although they inarguably increase the ability to collaborate, and are very popular in the classroom environment, they haven’t taken hold in the enterprise market for very specific reasons.

Traditionally, these devices are exceptionally difficult to learn how to use. Although a teacher goes into a classroom every day to use his or her tools, an enterprise conference room has different users every hour of every day. Generally, these enterprise users are people who expect to walk into a room and just start meeting…without requiring instructions or to have ascended a big learning curve. Also, enterprise meeting participants generally don’t get up; they sit at the table and use their personal devices.

Manufacturers are trying to get over these hurdles by making devices that are both easier to use and are usable from personal devices. Clearly, a new “hype cycle” has begun in the market place, with many new entrants into the space. (In my mind, this parallels the “immersive telepresence” craze of about 10 years ago, with all of the participating manufacturers taking a “we have one, too” approach instead of pointing out the obvious flaws of the category.)

Still, it’s anybody’s guess if the interactive display will be the next “must have” in the enterprise conference room, or if factors such as difficulty of use and the often stratospheric price or ongoing usage fees will cause minimal adoption by users, making this latest “hype-cycle” fizzle out after a few years just as immersive telepresence correctly did.

We’ve assembled representatives of some of the leading manufacturers in the space, integrators who sell and install the products, and enterprise end users to give us their opinions. Will the current interactive whiteboard craze finally break through to widespread enterprise usage, or are we just living through the latest tech-fad bubble that will burst?

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