Cisco Launches Spark Board, Meetings

Today at a launch event in San Francisco, Cisco unveiled Spark Board for whiteboard-based collaboration and Spark Meetings, as the company continues its pursuit of "magical moments" in the world of collaboration.

As Jens Meggers, SVP and GM of Cisco's Cloud Collaboration Technology Group, mentioned in a pre-briefing, Spark Board embodies the company's mission to "revolutionize the way people meet" -- a goal that's been four years in the making. Cisco has been systematically building out its Spark portfolio over the last two years, starting with Spark messaging and then adding calling and hybrid services, not to mention numerous integrations and partnerships along the way as it's built Spark into a full platform (see related post, "Cisco Spark Grows Up").

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Spark Board: What It Is

Cisco has positioned Spark Board as an all-in-one meeting room product that serves as a wireless presentation device, a digital whiteboard for all meeting participants, and a conferencing device -- all powered by the Spark cloud.

As a wireless presentation device, the Spark Board uses ultrasound wireless pairing technology to detect users as soon as they walk in a room, and when a user walks up to the board, it will recognize and greet him or her. The user can then swipe or click on a mobile device for instant screen sharing on the board, not requiring Bluetooth or a special Wi-Fi connection and making remote controls a thing of the past. Users also can share content from their PCs, Macs, or tablets.

As a whiteboard, the Spark Board lets any worker -- in person or remote -- edit content and mark up documents in real time. It features Cisco's encryption technology so that content is locked down, and it automatically saves content in an associated Spark Space so teams can revisit a whiteboard session and continually iterate on it.

Finally, as the Spark Board includes video conferencing capabilities, this means remote participants can be using the whiteboard while on a call. It features a 4K camera for a crisp video image, and has a new microphone array extending along the top. The microphone array, in tandem with VoiceTrack technology for voice location tracking, eliminates the need for those mics you typically see placed throughout larger meeting rooms.

Unclear is how Spark Board will impact the rest of Cisco's video room system portfolio, but as Meggers noted during our briefing the majority of business meeting rooms are not technology enabled. In other words, Cisco sees lots of opportunities to gain new customers through a tool like Spark Board, he added.

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How Do Spark Meetings Fit In?

While Spark Board seems to be the big news of the day, the company has also announced Spark Meetings in a move aimed at tackling some of the pain points involved in the time leading up to and coming out of meetings.

Spark Meetings adds in some of the capabilities of Cisco's WebEx conferencing product to extend the meeting to include the time before and after, "all made possible by the tight integration of hardware, software, apps, and the cloud," Cisco said in the press release. It has positioned Spark Meetings essentially as Spark Board for your mobile device. This way, if no one has a Spark Board, teams can still whiteboard together through the smartphone app.

When users schedule a meeting, the app creates a team space (the new name for what Cisco previously called Spark rooms) to add the agenda and invite the right people so that they can start sharing content. After the meeting has taken place, whiteboard content and activity remains in this space so participants can keep everything organized in one spot. Further, Cisco has integrated Spark Meetings with top calendars, including those from Microsoft, Google, and IBM, so scheduled meetings automatically populate on users' calendars.

Cisco has redesigned the user interface, as well, adding circular icons for the various activities possible within the application. The icons you see on the Spark Board are identical to the icons you see in the app.

"Our philosophy is the best meeting is no meeting at all," said Rowan Trollope, SVP and GM of IoT and Applications Group at Cisco, in a prepared statement. "You can't schedule innovation. It happens on its own schedule. Cisco Spark -- and not the Cisco Spark Board -- are all about to give you the tools to make that magic happen."

The Cisco Spark Board will be available for purchase at the end of the month of January from Cisco partners, with the 55-inch version at a suggested price of $4,990 plus a monthly subscription cost of $199 per month. A 70-inch version will become available later in 2017, with a suggested price of $9,990.

Learn more about next-generation messaging and team collaboration trends and technologies at Enterprise Connect 2017, March 27 to 30, in Orlando, Fla. View the Next-Gen Messaging & Team Collaboration track, and register now using the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event pass or a free Expo Plus pass.

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