Polycom Continues Boosting User Experience
With three new releases, the company once again shows its commitment to putting user experience on the front burner.
Polycom has long been known for delivering unparalleled levels of audio and video quality -- one reason why the star-shaped Polycom speakerphone is a de facto standard in conference rooms today. Unfortunately, usability, like with much of the rest of enterprise communications, has lagged.
Historically, I could sum up the usability of most of these products in a single word: "Meh." If you're not familiar with that term, then this description should help clarify: It's something that my teen kids seem to use whenever I ask their opinions. For example, the answer to "How was school today?" is typically "Meh."
In Googling the word, I found out that "meh" means "uninspiring or unexceptional" -- so, yes, a perfect descriptor for the usability of Polycom products over time. For Polycom, product quality has long earned a big thumbs up, but usability a "meh."
But of late, as I pointed out in a No Jitter post earlier this year, the company got religion and has begun focusing on human factors, user experience, and ease of use. Each recent release not only has been about product innovations, but also about user-experience improvements aimed at making those offerings usable by average workers and not just the smart folks in Polycom's labs.
Polycom today announced three new solutions that continue its shift from engineering-led to user experience-led backed by great technology. They are:
- RealPresence Group Series v5.0 - The latest update for Polycom's Group Series video collaboration solutions, this release natively integrates with Microsoft Skype for Business and Lync. This integration means users don't have to learn anything new. Lync/Skype for Business users can schedule, call, and share content directly with any Group Series system directly from their desktops -- exactly as they do with any other Microsoft client. Group Series users simply click to join calls. Everyone is video-connected and can see and even collaborate on the content from all sides. No new interfaces, nothing new to learn. Easy, right? And, for IT, the native integration means no gateways or custom code to support. When it comes to Lync and Skype for Business, Polycom's tag line should be something akin to "it just works," as the company has spent an inordinate amount of resources ensuring native interoperability. An important note regarding RealPresence Group Series 5.0 is that it includes new innovations like Acoustic Fence to eliminate background noise and new Beam Shaping that cuts a clear and private audio path out of noisy or public environments with just the single mic array that comes with every Group Series system. If you haven't seen how these work, they're worth checking out as the speaker could literally be on a factory floor with all the machines running in the background and the features would eliminate all background noise. This enables video use in places workers may never have dared to try previously because of background noise.
- Polycom OTX Studio - This solution enhances the current Open Telepresence Experience (OTX) to bring Polycom's latest telepresence innovations into midsized conference rooms. The difference between "video" and OTX is that the OTX is designed to create a complete, robust in-room experience instead of just plunking down a camera in one corner of the room. OTX Studio offers 1080p60 video and content sharing and enables participants to maintain eye contact throughout a call. The OTX solution also includes Polycom's 3D Voice technology, which does for audio what telepresence does for video -- providing incredibly rich and lifelike voice quality and also direct projection of voices from their exact positions on the far side.
- RealPresence Touch - This solution extends the new touch-screen simplicity from Group Series v5.0 to a tablet interface so users can easily start, stop, and control sessions by swiping or tapping on tabletop tablets. This may seem like a minor advancement, but remember, this is the new Polycom, the one that cares whether people use its products. Unquestionably, tablets and smartphones have influenced our lives to the point where we expect things to be touch-enabled. Have you been in a car recently where the LCD isn't touch-enabled? Annoying isn't it? Now imagine being a worker in a conference room and having to do everything through one of those remote controls that are as big as a touchscreen but way more complicated. The solution? RealPresence Touch! No more having to call the IT department to help with a call. All a user needs to know is how to tap a button on a screen -- and Apple has made sure that we all know how to do that no matter how young or old.
As an industry watcher, it's good to see the vendors in the UC space focusing on making products easy to use. This market has been filled with terrific innovation over the past decade and a half but adoption has been light -- partially because most workers won't use stuff if doing so requires an engineering degree. This set of innovations and products are proof points that Polycom continues to walk the "easy to use" walk.