Zooming into Video

by Dave Michels

I forgot that I made a stupid New Year’s resolution about being more positive, so let me do that in this post. First, let me talk about Polycom.

Last week Polycom unveiled the “Workplace of the Future.” Some felt I wasn’t positive enough. Certainly others were excited. For example my buddies at Wainhouse Research wrote “Polycom showed the industry that it has not lost its flair for Innovation, daring, and product leadership.” Also,  David Maldow at Let’s Do Video wrote “The Polycom Trio is such a no-brainer that I feel comfortable predicting that it will be a success.”

My opinion? I have no doubt that the new products are excellent, and I look forward to trying them. I am sure they are well designed, and will perform as well or better than intended. Polycom will likely sell lotso Trios and Centros for mucho dineros.

Yet, I found myself disappointed during the launch. Polycom built-up the event pretty heavily, and even used it to make cuatro major announcements. CEO Peter Leav set the stage with how the company has listened to its customers and learned from its mistakes. He said that the upcoming solutions will unleash human collaboration.

Then came announcements of new conference room hardware. Ever since its 1998 ViewStation, Polycom has been improving and re-inventing the video enabled conference room. Last week they actually talked again about getting video meetings to start on time. I felt like I was watching Police Academy 6. It is time to change the story, or perhaps time to change the “premise.” As coolio as this equipment is, it ain’t capturing the grande shifts occurring in business video.

For example, Leav said that there are 50 million conference rooms in the world, and since he thinks only four percent are video enabled he sees a huge opportunity. There’s at least three problems with this logic:

  1. There’s way more than 50m conference rooms. I figure just about every room is a conference room and some rooms, such as a Starbucks, are filled with individual conference seats.
  2. The 50m number, right or wrong,  isn’t material in that it probably hasn’t changed much in the past few years, nor has Polycom’s sales.
  3. There’s more vendors than ever chasing those 50m rooms.

Video is more pervasive and personal. Room systems are important, but the strategy has to start with people, not the room.


Here’s the part of the post where I demonstrate being positive. While the engineering team at Polycom was designing some fantastic new room hardware, Zoom has been building its revenue, influence, and customer base – without hardware. Other than the fact that both companies enable similar functionality, they have nothing in common.

Here’s an intro to Zoom:

  • Freemium business model. No purchase necessary to try it out. Freemium offers reduced risk, easy trials, and empowers groups to solve problems on their own. The main limitation on the free plan is the maximum meeting is 40 minutes, though there’s no limit on the number of meetings. If restarting is annoying – sign up for a paid account that starts at $15/user/month.
  • The free level of the service now supports up to 50 participants.
  • The company’s currently on a run-rate of hosting four billion meeting minutes per year. That’s about four times more than BlueJeans.
  • Despite a simple interface, it has robust features such as remote camera control, recording, and integrated scheduling. Compare that to a typical controller in a room. The scheduling tool opens Outlook or Google calendars with pre-populated information.
  • Recording. Not only does Zoom offer recording, but it is within the local client and are immediately available. The recording feature creates both an audio (MP3) and combined audio/video (MP4) file.
  • Mobile. Zoom apps are available for iOS and Android. iOS users can share their screens.
  • Legacy Support. If you have (new or legacy) equipment, you can use it with Zoom. No need to use external gateway services.
  • Not just conferencing: Zoom also supports webinars and e-learning.

What about those 50m conference rooms? Zoom takes a very different, yet clever DIY approach called Zoom Rooms. They are effectively a reference architecture where Zoom provides the software and the customer provides and assembles the room hardware using standard mass-market, inexpensive equipment. Zooms Rooms can be built for small or large rooms, one screen or two.

Customers can buy new hardware for their Zoom Rooms, or more likely will just have it. The remote control is an iPad with a Zoom controller app, and it offers advanced features such as click-to-join a scheduled meeting and far-end camera control. Zoom recommends specific audio and visual components from Logitech and RevoLabs (the same Logitech camera used in the Polycom Trio).

If you want a Trio, no problemo because Zoom interops with it and other standards-compliant systems. I am not sure if or how the Centro adheres to standards. I am guessing it does, but probably with some loss of features.  

The other thing about Zoom is ease of use. In all of my Zoom meetings, I’ve never had to talk the remote participant through basic steps or features. “Zoom is about quality, simplicity, and a happy experience for our users,” says Eric Yuan, Zoom’s founder and CEO. I find Zoom’s quality to be excellent, and its go-to-market approach refreshing and empowering – evidently I’m not alone as the company reports some impressive growth.