Brother OmniJoin Video/Web Conferencing
They were best known for typewriters and labels. Now they have a videoconferencing offer that could lead the way to a new model of Web-based communications
That's right...you did not misread that.... Brother, the typewriter, labeler and printer company has introduced a cloud based video conferencing solution. My first thought when I heard this was that it was a little silly, but after spending a little time with the Brother team, I came away impressed with a number of things about their offer and some really interesting observations about what this means for the UC/collaboration/telecommunications industry.
First, based on a short demo of its capabilities, the Brother OmniJoin offer seems to be a well-thought-out cloud-based desktop video and web collaboration system. OmniJoin is based on the Opus codec and has good audio and video quality at reasonable bandwidth. The user interface seems well organized, but I felt it might be a little complex for the target market of SME users. OmniJoin seems to have benefited well from being developed after other products like WebEx and Go-To-Meeting, as it incorporates video in a very native fashion and includes all of the traditional web conferencing tools. While OmniJoin uses a proprietary algorithm instead of SVC (Scalable Video Coding), it actually has many of the benefits of an SVC routed environment, as it seems the desktop app defines the presentation locally and that integrates with the cloud infrastructure.
In addition, Brother has incorporated different bit-rates in the implementation. This means the user can choose which images are presented in larger form, and even detach an image from the defined screen layout. The Brother team emphasized their document management capabilities. OmniJoin uses documents in their native form, and in addition to both document and desktop app sharing, enables meeting-based document filing/storage. In fact, the PowerPoint file that they used for the demo was stored in the on-line meeting space and I downloaded it while I was waiting for the meeting to start. The tool itself is a download and was fairly quick. The conference I did with their team went fairly seamlessly, though the quality of the experience was obviously dependent on the quality of the cameras used. A couple of the Brother team used desktop microphones and that impacted the audio quality, and one must have had an older camera, as that picture was visibly inferior to the others. As with any desktop video solution, the less-than-ideal lighting and unequal camera distances of the normal work desk environment impacted the experience. The system does not currently support any room system integration, though the Brother team suggested a PC with dual large monitors was a low cost room option with their system. Actually, with the right camera in the right room this would be interesting to try for a while.
The Brother team indicated that they plan to use their market position in document solutions for the SME and enterprise departmental market as the primary vehicles to grow their market share. As they do not see competing with the Vidtel and Blue Jeans space of open interconnects, the offer seems to be a step up from free options like Skype and a direct competitor to WebEx and Go-To-Meeting.
The Brother team emphasized that they intend to extend their document management to integrate the video and Web share with other devices (printers, scanners, etc) and use the integration of document management into the collaboration experience as the differentiator in that market. While I recognize the business case for not doing any significant promotion of the offer, I am concerned how Brother gets above the noise in this market with their strategy. Unless a customer is using the Brother document management so they have a ongoing relationship, the tactic of advertising video conferencing alongside a printer purchase may not get to the right people or be timed to the need. It will be interesting to watch their growth as a measure of how offering video/web conferencing as an extension of an adjacent market position works.
Which brings me to an observation: Seeing this product emphasized, to me, what is really beginning to happen in the communications world. As the next generation of communications and collaboration platforms emerge, just like OmniJoin they are a continuous part of the day's workflow for the host, but an event for the participant. For an SME, the fact that I do not have any OmniJoin experience is really not an issue. As the "client" is really just a set of browser plug-ins, the download is minimal. The value of both of us being "in the system" really goes away. In other words, the "friends and family" value of many of today's offers does not apply.
The result is that companies that never had a position in the telecommunications business see this next generation of communications and collaboration as an extension of another business space. Also, if the experience is easy and intuitive, the participants do not see a new experience as different, and therefore commonality is not essential--just as is the case with websites today. The result is that we may see a very rapid specialization in this market, with a variety of offers that are tuned to different segments and verticals, and marketed not as a general offer, but as an extension of something else.
Is it possible we will see DentistComm, LawyerTalk and MechanicsNet soon? The advent of HTML5 and WebRTC, both of which reduce the need for plug-ins and other items even further, will no doubt accelerate this process. This fracturing of the market may signal the beginning of an entirely new era and may accelerate the advent of the non-server interconnected communications that WebRTC could enable.
In this world I do not try to have my server talk to your server, but go directly to your server with my device to communicate, just as we do today to get information with Web browsers. I no longer have a phone number, but just a URL you go to in order to interact with me, and you go directly from your device to my server. OmniJoin is really just this type of system, albeit still implemented in a cloud without personalized URLs.
Are we moving to a world where there will be millions of communications servers? When alternative models of monetization are applied, the communications market may change even more.
I commend the Brother team for their efforts, and I wish them well in pursing their market. If you are in the market for a video/web collaboration service for about $50 per month, their offer definitely deserves a look. But for me the most significant part of seeing the OmniJoin product was understanding how readily a new video/web conferencing offer could be introduced and how divergent the offers may be. It is another example of how the world is changing.