“Smart Video”: Putting The Emphasis On The User

What makes “smartphones” so smart? Ultimately, we call them “smart phones” because they improve the user experience across a whole range of functions, so they seem smart to us. When smartphones first arrived on the scene, they instantly eclipsed “feature phones” like the Motorola Razr because they put the emphasis where it should have been all along – on the user experience.

What the video conferencing industry needs is that same kind of paradigm shift – a move away from features that are still too hard to launch intuitively. To be fully embraced by businesses and individuals, the industry as a whole has to get to “smart video.” (And for those of you already racing to set up a “smart video” Wiki, remember: You heard it here first.)

First, a brief history lesson. The combination of telephony and computing was the phone industry’s Holy Grail for decades, arguably dating back to the 1970s, with some early versions offered for sale as early as 1994. By most accounts, though, it was 1997 when the term “Smart Phone” was coined by Ericsson to describe its GS 88 “Penelope.”

The first of these phones combined the functions of a “personal digital assistant” (thank Apple for that phrase) with telephony. Contact lists made memorising phone numbers practically unnecessary, and calendars and other organisational applications made the smart phone more than just a way to make calls.

Add other phone features like multi-party calling, and a more practical form factor, and the smartphone changed the industry forever, in less than 15 years. You weren’t just using your smart phone. You shaped your environment with it. You were immersed in it.

It might not surprise you that many video conferencing companies have similar features in their offerings – multi-party calling, some scheduling functions, and other features that echo those in smartphones.

The problem is, it’s not “smart video.” Sadly, you have to be the smart one, not the video system. Have you seen the typical remote control unit for a business-class video conferencing setup? It looks like something that broke off the International Space Station. It’s as though the engineers are being paid by the button.

The industry needs to start thinking about “smart video.” Instead of having to type in long strings of digits for the IP address of the person you’re calling, how about an address book that lets you search and dial by the person’s name? How about a calendar function that lets you see at a glance whether your conference room is free for an important video conference?

And what about adding a line with the touch of a button, instead of having to study your remote like it’s the obelisk from “2001: A Space Odyssey”? If my home theatre system can let me set preferences without ever looking down from the screen, why can’t my business video conferencing system let me do the same thing?

The hassles of buying, deploying and managing video conferencing systems – especially for remote offices or teleworking employees – keep many companies from getting the most out of the technology. Video conferencing can often gather dust in an underused room, instead of being the go-to tool everyone needs to get more done, faster.

Remember, the thing about smartphones is not that the technology is so sophisticated; it’s that the phones make the sophisticated technology easy to work with and easy to understand. In the end, it creates an atmosphere where you can be your most productive and most creative.

It could be the same with video conferencing in business, if instead of thinking only about features, the industry started thinking about how to make those features easy to use. Sophisticated features have to be boiled down until they’re as simple to use as the applications on a smartphone. That’s smart video. When that happens, the result will be a universally user-friendly experience that people will want to use – not be made to use.

Most people can’t imagine a day without their smartphones. If the video conferencing industry had that kind of “smart video” connection with their business users, it would revolutionize the technology the same way smart phones did with telephony.

So, what’s the holdup?

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In his role as Video Evangelist, Simon Dudley is the spokesperson for LifeSize and evangelises how video communications can help drive social collaboration and accelerate business success. Over the nine years that he has been with LifeSize, Simon has held the roles of Americas Sales Director for National Partners, Product Manager, EMEA Sales Director, Regional Manager for Emerging Markets and Global Account Manager. Prior to joining LifeSize, Simon held a number of senior sales management positions within the hi-tech arena. Simon holds two patents, awarded during his time at LifeSize Communications, as part of his work designing the worlds first High Definition Video Conferencing Solutions.