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Zoom Continues to Innovate at Blistering Pace
Zoom announced a cornucopia of new features and innovations over the past couple of weeks, designed to shift the company from being thought of as a PC-based/mobile video-calling platform to a broader communications platform. Arguably, no vendor saw a bigger “COVID-pop” to adoption than the company, which saw a massive increase in utilization across almost all verticals. The big question for watchers of Zoom is, what happens when people return to the office? Users like Zoom, but that’s a double-edged sword because companies that build good consumer products often struggle in the business segment.
Zoom has made tremendous strides in some key areas such as security and calling. The following are some additional highlights of what has been announced:
$100 Million Zoom Apps Fund Investment Launch
Zoom’s CEO and founder, Eric Yuan, has publicly stated the importance of ecosystems—and this new venture fund designed to stimulate the growth of Zoom’s ecosystem of Zoom Apps, third-party integrations, and hardware fund is an example of the company putting its money where its mouth is. Companies in the portfolio will receive an initial investment of somewhere between $250,000 and $2.5 million (or Z-bucks as I like to call them) to build solutions that help customers meet, call, or collaborate.
This launch is a critical part of Zoom’s growth from product to a platform. Software companies that become big (and I mean Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce big) get that way because they are platforms. Zoom has grown nicely, but it can’t create a step function in growth without the help of an ecosystem, hence the focus. The company launched its app developer program just under two years ago and has about 1,300 partners to date. That’s certainly a nice number, but it’s peanuts compared to what’s possible. $100 million seems like a lot of money, but if this is executed correctly, the return will be in the billions.
Alexa for Business Goes Live on Zoom Rooms Appliances
This feature enables people to use the Alexa interface to manage meetings. Zoom already has this voice command capability with “Hey Zoom,” but now users can say “Alexa” instead. The advantage of Alexa is that it’s an interface that many people are comfortable with and use at home. Once this feature is enabled, Zoom Rooms customers can ask Alexa to do things like join meetings, book a space, record a call, end a meeting, and various other tasks. The new Zoom Rooms capabilities are available today and extend appliances manufactured by DTEN, Neat, Logitech, and Poly.
As businesses plan a safe return to the office, the voice command interface becomes an important feature. For the foreseeable future, companies will likely need to adhere to COVID-19 protocols which include keeping surfaces sanitized. Once a surface is sanitized, devices like displays, touchpads, and cameras can remain clean by having users speak to them instead of touching them. The speech interface also enables non-technical workers to use the systems.
Earlier this month, Zoom rolled out several new features for its core meeting products designed to improve collaboration capabilities. These include:
- Vanishing pen annotation enables people to highlight, markup, or write on a screen share and the annotations will disappear over time. The speaker can then draw attention to certain parts of the presentation without having to constantly hit undo or erase their annotations. This feature is also available on Zoom Webinars.
- Whiteboard auto-shapes for Zoom mobile helps people draw straight lines and objects when it becomes annoying to do so on the mobile app. Making a box or even drawing a line can be challenging on a tablet or mobile phone and this feature aims to make it much easier.
- More emoji options for meeting reactions enable participants to be themselves. The latest release of this feature brings many new emoji reactions and the ability to choose the skin tone. Admins can also choose whether to give participants access to the entire emoji suite or just the standard six.
InformaCast for Zoom Phone
Zoom Phone customers now have the ability to trigger and receive mass notifications using InformaCast from Singlewire. This feature has been popular in verticals like schools and healthcare, but the ability to push crisis information to a large number of people is something that all businesses must worry about.
Meetings can get monotonous, particularly when we’re looking at the same thing hour after hour, day after day. Immersive View, announced at Zoomtopia 2020, changes things up by allowing the host to arrange the participants into a single virtual background, making it look like everyone is in one space. This look is much different from the traditional gallery view that we have all become accustomed to. Zoom provides a handful of preloaded backgrounds, but companies can upload their own.
Immersive View is similar to Microsoft Teams’ Together Mode. I think the feature will become a standard across all meeting products because it lets people maintain a social distance, but creates a more “together” feeling. I also expect it to be very popular with end users and that it will most likely become the primary way we meet.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Zoom is best known as a PC-based meeting company, but the reality is that it’s so much more. It has phones, meeting rooms, has whiteboarding capabilities, team messaging, and everything else needed to be a complete meeting provider. These new capabilities will go a long way into helping Zoom convert its massive video install base into companies that are “all in” on Zoom.