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InfoComm 2018 - Collaborative and Ideation Technologies

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InfoComm 2018 - Collaborative and Ideation Technologies
    

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15 Jun 2018
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This year’s InfoComm represented a type of welcoming party for me. Going forward, I’m happy to report I’ll be covering that emerging category of technologies people are calling ideation more extensively, and InfoComm certainly is a great place to immerse oneself in this market segment. Before I get too far, let me mention the category includes everything from collaboration-enabled hardware, cloud-based services, interactive flat panels, laser phosphor displays, projectors and scanning systems, and even eWriters. I describe in alpha order the vendors with whom I met who had new announcements or from whom I received product demonstrations (perhaps recently announced products I hadn’t seen), then wrap up with some broader What I think. My WR colleagues Andy Nilssen and Steve Vonder Haar also were at the show - be sure to see their summary on enterprise video solutions.

Bluescape

Appearing in the Avocar booth, Bluescape showed off some of the features it announced in April meant to boost storytelling, contextualization, and persistence of content. Among new features are its Workspace search, which searches across a multitude of workspaces based on a range of criteria; team customization of its portal (Portal 2.0), and the ability to move a canvas, which gives users the ability to select and organize multiple groups of content faster.

DisplayNote

Ireland-based DisplayNote seemed to be everywhere – well, one minute in their own stand, the next in the booths of a surprising number of OEM partners, including the likes of ELO, NEC, Newline, and Sharp.   It was showing off a new Mac-supporting version of its Montage wireless presentation system, a version of Montage running on Windows that requires no installation, and the DisplayNote Cloud, an (appropriately named) platform for IT to manage Montage deployments from the cloud.  Its Mosaic ideation software (video conferencing, whiteboarding, and document collaboration) was on display in its stand.  As an example of how the company is going to market with partners, NEC was showing off Mosaic integrated with its super-duper Infinity board.  NEC will be taking a modular approach: three “tiers” of integration with DisplayNote’s Mosaic software running on either a Windows PC or a Raspberry Pi (single-board mini-PC card), and other levels of integration with DisplayNote’s Montage.

FlatFrog

The FlatFrog booth was like Grand Central Station, what with its own software as well as partners Bluescape, SMART Technologies, Avocor, and the new 55-inch Samsung Flip board that was incongruously announced way back in January at the CES.  All the partners were showing off ways that FlatFrog’s patented InGlass multi-touch technology makes their software and displays work better.   The best way I can describe the underlying technology is that it serves up reverse light from the back of the board that gets scattered as one touches a monitor.  Some advanced signal processing and tomographic algorithms further deliver a 2D reconstruction of input.  While it takes an in-person demo to fully appreciate FlatFrog’s capabilities, the net benefit of using FlatFrog-enabled displays is that touch monitors are so sensitive a user can annotate content even while wearing a glove.   FlatFrog does sell modules under its own brand name and has its own software (available on Windows 10 machines in a 30-day free trial) but places an emphasis on licensing these capabilities to other vendors.  And FlatFrog’s partner list has become a Who’s Who in the industry, including the likes of Dell, Prysm, Pexip, Promethean, HOYLU, Intel UNITE, Polycom (Pano), and Actiontec (known to some for their role in helping develop Microsoft’s Miracast in Windows 10).  Hey guys, even Zoom uses FlatFrog.   Specifically announced at InfoComm this month: new displays from ViewSonic and Avocor using FlatFrog InGlass technology.  And in a bit of guerilla marketing (no press release anywhere I"ve looked), SMART was showing off its new 7000 Pro Series boards with an Intel Core i5 compute card option that can be used to provide a full Windows 10, Surface-Hub-like experience.  SMART also showed some new UX features (customizable home pages on their boards) plus new security and "casting content" features.

InFocus

InFocus showed off a new array of three Mondopad all-in-one display models, each to be available in 55-, 65-, 75-, and 86-inch models as well as multi-touch 4K or 1080p anti-glare displays. Target date for shipping: October.  The Mondopad Ultra provides a seamlessly integrated, fully-featured touchscreen system with a built-in Windows PC, Intel Core i7 processor, and Microsoft Office. Users can share, view, and control the Mondopad Ultra from a computer, tablet, or smartphone, annotate using the interactive digital whiteboard feature, and utilize native HD video calling and data sharing; Mondopad Launch includes built-in Windows PC with Intel Core i5 processor and is video conferencing-ready (you provide the service) It does support digital whiteboard and annotation capabilities from personal devices. The third model, Mondopad Access, gives users an easy way to present information and share ideas. Content can be wirelessly transmitted to the display at the touch of a button with the included, aptly named, new InFocus SimpleShare point-to-point wireless presentation solution. Users can write or draw on the built-in digital whiteboard, screen capture, and annotate over any content, as well as view and present documents, photos, and video. InFocus told us it is after a simplified user experience, and previewed SimpleShare as well.  Three bundled models are available, varying by number of transmitters and options.  At the high end, the SimpleShare Touch Presentation System supports up to three presenters with wireless touch control from a touch display panel and allows users to annotate on anything they present from their source device, as well as draw and write on a built-in digital whiteboard.

InFocus Mondopad Ultra Demo

Kaptivo

Kaptivo unit

Dry-erase whiteboards are just about as ubiquitous in meeting rooms and classrooms across the globe as any other room furniture other than tables and chairs. With that in mind, Kaptivo has expanded its portfolio of whiteboard cameras, adding the release of its Kaptivo Self-Hosted and Kaptivo HDMI models.  The on-premise Kaptivo Self-Hosted product is targeting organizations looking to improve collaboration through whiteboard archiving and sharing while accommodating strict security policies that restrict access to cloud services. No traffic leaves the corporate network; no public internet access is required. Kaptivo HDMI streams any whiteboard content directly to any HDMI-capable display, video conferencing system, or lecture capture system. It’s designed for educational institutions and enterprises that want to integrate whiteboard live streaming into a dedicated video channel.  Be sure you are sitting down for the price point: $995 for any of its three models, which includes (for the cloud-connected units) a three-year SaaS license.

Microsoft

Microsoft gave us an NDA talk regarding its new Windows Collaboration Display, the Surface Hub 2. Can’t say much more than that as we eagerly await its GA in 2019.  But it was clear from everything we experienced in their booth (including the HoloLens use cases and Microsoft’s many partner endpoints) that Teams is the operant metaphor going forward. 

Nureva

Nureva announced that its new Nureva Wall WM408i system is now shipping early units, with GA expected in July. The WM408i combines a solid-state illumination (SSI) HD, ultra-short-throw projector (1080p) with a new capacitive multitouch surface (aka the wall – a 7.5-feet wide/100-inch diagonal surface).  Users can combine up to eight walls to create up to a 60-foot-wide workspace in side-by-side or corner configurations to create custom workspaces.  The system starts up automatically through presence detection. It also comes with Nureva Room Manager, which is meant to simplify system setup and adjustments. This new Nureva Wall is optimized for use with Span Workspace but can also be used with any Windows application – you provide a PC or NUC running Window 8.1 or higher.   A new follow-me feature for Span Workspace focuses the attention of a distributed team on specific areas of a Span canvas during a real-time collaboration session. When follow-me is enabled, the user’s view of the canvas is presented to all participants, allowing everyone to follow along as the leader moves around the canvas.  We like the new form factor and even better the $8,999 MSRP in the U.S.  Nureva also showed off its HDL300 system, which can be used as the primary source for audio and video in a meeting room or classroom.  It includes the company’s Microphone Mist technology, which places 8,192 virtual microphones throughout a room to pick up sound from any location. 

Nureva Wall WM4080i Dual Canvas

Oblong

Oblong Industries showed off its recently announced integration of Mezzanine with Cisco WebEx Teams.  Knowledge workers can move between the desktop workstream of a WebEx Teams environment to a multi-user, multi-location, multi-stream Mezzanine meeting space very easily.  Any assets shared in either space are synchronized immediately so teams can easily access and utilize content that is shared after the meeting ends.  Oblong also told us they have been working to simplify the installation process as well as the experience for novice users – getting them up to speed very quickly.  This has meant less focus on “wow factors” and more attention paid to ensuring everyone is looking at the right content, focusing the attention of those working together with (as an example) a high-end laser pointer.

Prysm

Prysm Booth

Prysm showed publicly for the first time its Laser Phosphor Display (LPD) 6K Series, an interactive, single panel, large-format display.  The LPD 6K provides a “bezel-free” experience, uninterrupted by seams, which helps reduce user friction (for lack of a better phrase) on screens where people might be collaborating or viewing content.  The LPD is available in two display sizes (48 or 75 square feet), and the series supports up to eight interactive live inputs.  The company also announced new distribution agreements with First Video Communications (FVC) in the Middle East and Daheng in China, and it reported success for initial shipments of the LPD 6K via its North American resellers.  The video technology is helping employers speak to a growing need: a better workplace experience for employees.

QuirkLogic

I got my first hands-on with the 22-pound, 42-inch QuirkLogic Quilla, a product that was the result of a partnership between QuirkLogic and E Ink Holdings, the company that created the electronic ink technology used in e-readers like the Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, and other related devices.  (Little did I know that some of the QuirkLogic founding team were the same execs behind Elluminate, an early web conferencing innovator later bought by Blackboard.)  The focus of the Quilla is on simplicity and on being the unCola of digital writing surfaces.  Seriously.  Quilla is meant to not replicate the experience of working on an interactive LCD.  Everything about the product instead is about looking more like paper and pen and high contrast black and white screen –think of it as a giant Kindle display. It provides persistency of content, automatic content saving to a centralized content library, unlimited workbooks and pages, and contextual menus.  QuirkLogic is betting the farm that knowledge workers will feel more comfortable with familiar, non-reflective displays and what it considers to be a more natural experience for those wishing to ideate.  There’s some cool technology here: “Six million to 18 million pixels working together,” as they describe it.     I like the 16-hour battery life, multi-touch technology, and incredible portability in comparison to much heavier IFPs.  I’m not so sure the platform won’t face some of the same headwinds interactive whiteboards have faced in corporate America, but as I’ll note shortly, there’s room for a lot of use cases in the conference room and classroom.  I can see this product fitting well into huddle rooms and into organizations needing a portable means of collaborating remotely.  

Ricoh and Solaborate

As I’m wrapping up, I’ll mention some impressive demos I saw from Ricoh and Solaborate, two companies as completely opposite as is possible – yet possessing one common trait.  Tell ya in a second. One, Ricoh: a Japan-based $18 billion global giant that several years ago decided to get into the communications space. The other, Solaborate, a bootstrapping Los Angeles-based start-up that’s raised $1.4 million – at least a third of that via Kickstarter.  The former delivering a compact, portable meeting device (P3500) along with mobile apps, an interactive whiteboard, and a video conferencing gateway service. Ricoh wisely is focusing on incorporating the pre-meeting, meeting, and post-meeting experience with some new services.  The latter – Solaborate – delivering an all-in-one communications and collaboration device called Hello for video conferencing, screen sharing, wireless screen casting, live broadcasting, motion-sensitive camera feed, and Alexa Voice Assistance.  Just another one of those all-in-one devices that’s let you use your service of choice. While the Hello product doesn’t require a touch-screen, it works well with one.  So, what’s the common thread? It’s innovation. Read on.

What I think

As a 30-year veteran of the “remote collaboration industry,” having covered or “touched heavily or lightly” almost all technologies covered by that term other than PBX’s, I’m jazzed by the amount of innovation that’s still taking place. There’s an intersection taking place between tech innovation, manufacturing efficiencies, component price reductions, consumerization of the enterprise, and, sorry for repeating the cliché: new workers and new use cases that are embracing and supporting collaboration and teaming.  There’s a reason Microsoft and Google and Cisco have invested in extensions of their respective UC ecosystems via ideation boards. There’s a reason SMART and Bluescape and Nureva and Oblong and InFocus are all selling medium and high-end ideation and display technologies (and accessories) and gaining (or maintaining) traction among distributors and enterprises.  There’s a reason Flatfrog created the incredible InGlass technology powering some of those vendors’ products mentioned above. And there’s a reason a Kaptivo or QuirkLogic comes along at differentiated price points, using differentiated technologies, to capture the hearts and minds of those of us who work across distance.  The potential payoff – and the likely impact on enterprise collaboration – that results from this innovation wave could be huge. Of course, one final obstacle still looms, and it’s the biggest. That’s changing corporate cultures. No single advance in technology will directly solve that problem, but we’re making progress.

In case you haven't seen: Infocomm 2018 part 1 - Video Solutions