Favorite Apps

by Dave Michels

Contrary to popular opinion, communications apps are not all the same. Some are designed to work with phones, and some are designed to replace phones. Some apps even run on phones.

While there is certainly a lot of overlap among enterprise UC apps, there are some nuances that deserve recognition. I don’t mean to suggest that some of the examples below are exclusive, but I thought I would share some features that I find compelling.

Skype For Business
Search: I think all apps have a directory search capability, but sometimes the contact we seek is not in our personal or enterprise directories. There’s lot of approaches to directories, such as integration with LinkedIn. But, Skype4B’s integration with Skype is a killer feature. Skype and Google Chat or Talk or Hangouts or whatever it is called are the two most popular IM solutions, but Google doesn’t make make it easy.

Google’s mission statement is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful is to organize.” That seems a bit ironic considering how they treat the concept of contacts (thanks Google Plus). As far as I know there is no way to easily search/verify Google contacts. You can “invite to chat” any email address, but it will only work if it’s Gmail or Google Apps account. Google doesn’t even tell you it won’t work.

Digium Switchvox
Phone top recording: Call recording is an old school basic feature. It used to be commonly implemented as feature-button on the phone. That method still exists especially with proprietary phones, but it is more commonly found in software clients. Digium Switchvox has a very nice implementation on popular SIP phones that allows a user to start and stop (even multiple times) recordings with a touch of the phone’s display. Too many vendors treat SIP phones as a modern day analog devices and put the real features on the soft client.

Passive Android App: Most mobile clients allow enterprise calls to be placed from the smartphone app, but in practice few people bother with the hassle. It’s just too easy to use the native dialer on the phone to bother with the app. Switch takes a clever UCaaS approach by using a POP and relay method. Instead of attempting a data connection it simply overrides the native dialer and calls its own POP. There, the call gets seamlessly redirected to the desired destination, but the the official UCaaS outbound caller-ID. When a call is placed the app first prompts which outbound callerID is preferred, and it can remember this on a per dialed number basis. This is the only mobile app I found myself regularly using because it requires no additional effort.

This app, actually it’s clientless, connects my status on Google presence status to my desktop phone. If I make or receive a call, my Google status changes to red/on-the-phone. Most UCaaS offers that claim Google integration are focused Contacts and click-to-dial. Vonage does those features too. Google has been threatening to break the APIs that make this integration possible, but sometimes that company’s short attention span regarding enterprise comms works in the user’s favor. Vonage acquired gUnify last year and is slowly being integrated into the Vonage empire. Some divisions only have the Salesforce connector and other acquired divisions only have the Google connector.

Mobile video: The UC industry struggles with video. While all support it to some degree, they just can’t decide how important or native it should be. This can partially be demonstrated by the lack of video-enabled IP phones on the market. 8×8 was very early to embrace video and has promoted the current generation of Polycom VVX video phones since they were introduced. I’ve always liked the Winnebago sized VVX-1500 – it’s been on my desk longer than any other phone. It has a large 9” screen and great speaker. I was recently trying the new 8×8 mobile app. In addition to impressive wideband audio, it has native support for video. Voice and video in one app isn’t as unique as it was, but the video also works between and hard phone.

Spark Message Receipt: The problem with IM and email is that you never quite know if/when the message was read. Cisco’s new messaging service has a very subtle indicator that tells you if/when messages are actually viewed. It works well and is surprisingly useful. For example, calling people can be socially dangerous and make you a hero or ass. If a meeting time gets pushed back, is it appropriate or annoying to call? With Spark you can IM, and if they don’t see it call.

Again, these are features I liked and noticed. I don’t know if they are unique or even first, but I do know they are not common – yet.