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InfoComm 2015: Stepping up the Definition of Collaboration

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on Unified Communications & Collaboration


InfoComm 2015: Stepping up the Definition of Collaboration

By: -
23 Jun 2015

I spent a lot of quality time at InfoComm 2015 looking at a number of early-stage ventures in the ideation / visualization space, such as Nureva, Microsoft (Surface Hub), Bluescape Technologies, NEC and DisplayNote, and SMART Technologies (kapp iQ).  I came away with the distinct impression that collaboration is hitting a new, richer note. So I’ll start with Nureva, then describe some of the other vendors with whom I met or who had announcements at the event.  For those not familiar with the term, ideation is defined as the process of forming ideas or images. Now that video conferencing and web conferencing and whiteboarding are all (ahem) mainstreamed, the latest thing (which really began a few years ago) is for vendors to attack collaboration tech in new form factors and new ways, such as via integrated displays with touch, or new approaches to whiteboarding. I refer you to our other InfoComm coverage on video conferencing and A/V vendor announcements from Andrew and Ira and Saar, and focus here on how some of the new forms of collaboration are taking shape – and stepping up the definition of what it means to collaborate. (And we'll have other InfoComm and outside-of-InfoComm-news in an upcoming news in brief.)


Co-founded by Dave Martin and Nancy Knowlton, formerly of SMART Technologies, Nureva used InfoComm as a launch party of sorts, where the company combined its search for customers and most importantly (at this point) channel partners with demonstrations of its first business product, the Nureva Span ideation system.  Think combination short-throw panoramic projector (is that an oxymoron? I don’t think so in their case) with content creation / manipulation software.  The idea with this product / service is to provide a platform for design, creative processes and business-process reengineering, so the Span ideation system combines a 16:6 projector with digital canvas to create a 4' by 40' with 10' or more feet (depending on the system) visible team workspace.

Worldwide debut of the Nureva Span Ideation System

“Ideation participants” (that’s anybody who brainstorms, teams, and otherwise collaborates around content) create their ideas either together on the projected surface, or on their personal devices (either a computer or tablet) and share them on the team workspace in the cloud. The system draws upon concepts and tools already widely used in everyday, paper-based ideation including sticky notes, images, pages, and flip charts.  The Span ideation system allows multiple teams to use a collaboration room that previously may have been dedicated to a single team for months. 

While the company is still finalizing pricing, pre-announced pricing consists of an annual subscription of U.S. $239 for a single-user software license. The hardware (including the panoramic projector, projector wall mount, remote control, 2 pens and touch module) starts at an MSRP of U.S. $9,999. The system is available through a network of dealers in the United States initially and will begin shipping in August 2015.

What does this sort of product do that you can’t already do with team workspaces, meeting process software, and the like? You have to see it to understand it, but the initial markets that jump out are Architecture-Engineering-Construction, Design, Retail, Pharmaceuticals, Energy – any organization where use cases might range from product development to business process reengineering to agile software development.  Is it an interactive whiteboard? Not really. Is it web conferencing?  Nope.  Does it bear some similarities? Yes and no.  A product like this offers a lot to companies that have teams (distributed or local) that need a lot of thinking and collaboration to go on.  Leveraging the cloud for content storage and manipulation, the Span product offers lots of possibilities once Nureva maps its capabilities to use cases just a wee bit more (meaning content management, integration aspects, and so on).  Stay tuned.  The founders of SMART aren’t slinking away into the woods, and instead are boldly charging back into the fray – with renewed enthusiasm for all things ideation-related.

Bluescape Technologies

It seems like in every corner the furniture guys are trying to figure out how to build for integrated technologies, and just as Herman Miller and Steelcase are showing up to the collaboration party, Haworth-owned Bluescape Technologies  was showing off its Bluescape Visual Collaborative Workspace.  Bluescape is a persistent, cloud-based platform for “large-scale” visual collaboration.  The software starts at $1,188 per named user per year, and can be accessed simultaneously from large touch screens, laptops, and mobile devices. (Bluescape sells the software stand-alone to be matched with Planar ($42,500 for Planar’s 84” display) or Multitaction displays, or with displays it sells itself; required in any scenario is a small Linux controller made by Bluescape to run the software on a touchscreen).  Users working on a large virtual surface can scroll around the surface using pinch-to-zoom and projects are timeline recorded; displayed objects can include notecards, media (.PDF, .PNG, .JPG, and YouTube videos) screen shares, and browser windows, and the idea is for round-the-clock access to project work using interactive touch technologies.  Bluescape is targeting design engineering companies and also told me they are doing well in higher education.  The company showed WebEx and RingCentral meetings integrated into the experience and claims you can integrate any WebRTC or user-supplied endpoints you wish to included.  The closest analogy I can come up with would be how Anacore Synthesis runs on Prysm collaboration video walls.  These products are not for the faint of wallet but demo really well.

DisplayNote and NEC

Ireland-based DisplayNote licenses its software to NEC, so I had a demo of DisplayNote in the NEC booth and then went to the horse’s mouth, DisplayNote itself.  (Thanks NEC – probably the best coffee bar at the show – we do need caffeine to fuel these long days.) NEC was showing off its UM352W ultra-short-throw projector, positioning it as a classroom solution, and includes with it DisplayNote Software, a presentation / collaboration app that lets teachers and students present, share and annotate content from a multitude of devices, including PC’s, tablets and smart phones. Students can take notes in class and automatically save them for review.  NEC sells three bundles of UM352W, each with built-in pen-based interactivity and DisplayNote starting at an estimated street price of $2,349; prices climb to $2,748 if one wants a full bundle that includes the projector and custom wall mount but adds an interactive touch module.  One thing that demos well: Displaynote on NEC has a nice UX and handles shifting between different pen sizes very well.

DisplayNote the company is making its first official foray into North America, and offers its DisplayNote software as a direct sell, while also offering a new appliance and software called the Montage.  The Montage is a wireless content sharing platform still in beta-test mode that includes remote control of content, touch / gesture driven interface, and built-in voice and video calling (they built their own web conferencing capability).  The Linux-based appliance starts at $1,800 U.S. but the software is also available as a Windows app to be deployed on a conference room PC.  Mobile devices include the usual suspects (iOS, Android) and connect using AirPLay or Miracast.  And up to 12 devices can be connected simultaneously – a nice touch.

SMART Technologies

Speaking of SMART, I had the pleasure of getting a demo of SMART kapp iQ, SMART’s latest addition to its kapp dry-erase board.  We wrote about the kapp iQ when it was announced recently -- the kapp iQ, which functions as a stand-alone color interactive whiteboard, connects to any Android or iOS device. Users can then invite any Web-enabled device to join for real-time collaboration. SMART kapp supports up to 250 remote users and other kapp IQ displays located elsewhere.  The kapp IQ display also includes an HDMI input, allowing it to act as an interactive 4K touch display / interactive white board as well.  SMART kapp iQ is available this month in two sizes. The 55” model and 65” model will have MSRP’s in the U.S. of $3,999 and $4,999, respectively.  I happen to think the pricing is solid and that kapp is another product that has specific use cases – it won’t be enough for all, but it’s simplicity will appeal to some – and the iQ as an interactive flat panel display opens up possibilities not really available to the original kapp.  But it’s going to run into Pac Man as a competitor (see Microsoft Hub story below).

Huge booth, ONE product: the Microsoft Surface Hub

Microsoft Surface Hub

Alan gets his Surface Hub time

OK I’m last to the Wainhouse Research Hub party; some of the other analysts saw the Hub at Enterprise Connect. I skipped EC.  But I’ve been writing about the Hub all year since it was first announced and I was pleasantly surprised: this is a keeper when you see it in action.  There were no new announcements – and we just recently published the recently announced pricing ($20,000 for the 84-incher, $7,000 for the 55-incher).  But the demo showed several capabilities handled well and left me with two big conclusions.  First, what handles well: 1) Microsoft learned well from its Lync Room Systems spec how to build a device for a shared conference room – and that the next step was to enable individuals to hold their own sessions with their own content, then be able to leave the room knowing that content was secure and not available to others. 2) I was skeptical that the audio / video experience would be effective.  Cameras on a monitor / display? Everybody has wrestled with that one.  Well, the beveled sideboards with two built-in, wide-angle HD cameras, IR / imaging / depth sensors, and speakers handle the video and audio far better than I expected.  Andy and I tried participating in an audio / video conference and the experience of being at the remote end of a Hub session is just fine.  Inking and manipulating content, saving OneNote content, pulling in / using the Windows 10 OS and apps – the experience is seamless. 

Outside the demo room, various partners, including Stormboard, which makes its own collaboration app (another subscription model, folks) that Microsoft is positioning as a value-add ideation tool, showed off their software running on several Surface Hubs.  Now to my two conclusions: 1) Were I a partner such as Crestron or SMART or Polycom, I’d be pretty irritated with Microsoft for partnering on the LRS spec and then introducing its own product (notwithstanding now Crestron and AMX are scrambling to show integration / controls of their own of the Hub).  I guess some things never change and this is life in a Darwinian, competitive world; and 2) when I see the Hub I also see little Pac-men gobbling up lots of walls.  When Microsoft decides to get into a space, you know it’s going to go all out to own it. Sure, there are limits to the Surface Hub’s form factor and there will be many other use cases that its various competitors will find their own traction supporting.  One end user commented to me that he doesn’t want to hang interactive flat panel displays in his law firm’s conference rooms, preferring short-throw projectors and interactive software.  But like its predecessor Pong, the original arcade video game, Pac-man (I mean Surface Hub) if nothing else will do what the original Pong (and LCS/OCS/Lync/S4B) did: spawn a market, drive forth into the enterprise in this case this essential truism – collaboration is here to stay and ready for prime time on the wall and on the device and everywhere in between.   Let’s say InfoComm 2015 was yet another proof point of this fact.

Stormboard on the Microsoft Surface Hub