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Zoomtopia: 5 Key Takeaways
Zoom Video Communications recently wrapped up its third-annual Zoomtopia conference, capping off an eventful year during which it continued its rapid growth trajectory, launched a phone offering, and went public. Outer space was the event’s primary theme, with a space-themed exhibit hall; actor Zachary Quinto, who played Spock on the recent Star Trek reboot, as host; a talk from former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino; and a closing session featuring a chat with Sir Richard Branson, who showed off his new spacesuit.
Here are five key takeaways for customers, partners, and competitors.
- Rooms Shifting to Appliances — For the last few years, the videoconferencing market has bifurcated into two room system architectural approaches: appliances, offered by vendors like Cisco and Lifesize, that include computing power in the same physical device as the camera, speakers, and microphone; and kits, such as offered by Crestron, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Logitech, that use separate components for compute, video, sound, and control. Nemertes research shows that the appliance-based model requires lower installation costs and leads to lower total cost of ownership than the kit-based approach. Three partner announcements highlighted the market shift to appliances: DTEN introduced its ON55 product, a combination of touchscreen virtual whiteboard and videoconferencing endpoint, available via a device-as-a-service subscription model. Poly introduced its Studio X series (X30 and X50), a pair of slim devices that are controllable by either an external touch panel or via a touchscreen, and that feature AI capabilities for noise cancellation and active-speaker framing. Shortly after the appearance of Poly’s CEO on the Zoomtopia keynote stage to announce the Studio X, came the introduction of newcomer Neat’s own Zoom Rooms appliance.
- Neat Arrives — Neat, a startup funded in part by Zoom and led by a number of longtime videoconferencing innovators, created a large stir on the show floor… and challenges for other Zoom endpoint partners that must differentiate competitively. The Neat platform is only available via the web, and represents a very different go-to-market model from selling through traditional AV integrators and distributors. Neat is relying on Zoom for customer support, as it attempts to position its room system and touchscreen as natively integrated Zoom devices. Neat represents an attractive option for those 100% committed to Zoom, but its current lack of ability to support other meeting platform vendors may limit its usefulness for Zoom customers that also need to support other meeting vendors. Another limitation is that, as yet, Neat doesn’t have offerings designed for larger conference rooms, whereas Poly does.
- Zoom Phone Is Growing — Last year at Zoomtopia, Zoom announced its Phone offering, providing a simple telephony option for existing Zoom Meetings customers. Zoom was careful at the time to note that it still intended to maintain its partnership with RingCentral and wasn’t attempting to challenge full-featured UCaaS providers. Now, Zoom Phone has matured to the point where a growing number of customers, including several large organizations, are using, or planning to adopt it to replace on-premises or other cloud platforms. Zoom’s differentiator is simple: native integration with the existing Zoom Meetings client, providing an ability for customers to eliminate separate phone system applications and platforms. In our research, we note that as companies shift to using apps like Zoom for their internal and external communications, they decrease the need for a separate phone system. Thus, a company that’s using Zoom Meetings for most calls is likely to find benefit in adding on the Phone features at minimal incremental cost.
- Zoom Isn’t Focused on Team Collaboration — One slide presented in CEO Eric Yuan’s opening keynote showed how Zoom plans to converge the separate communications and meeting markets, but notably absent was any mention of team collaboration. Zoom does offer its own chat app, but it doesn’t center its UI around it like competitors such as Cisco, 8x8, Microsoft, and RingCentral have done in recent years. Zoom continues to partner with Slack, and also announced an integration with Microsoft Teams. For now, Zoom seeks to integrate with leading team collaboration vendors, while providing its own simple team collaboration capabilities.
- Meeting AI Is the New Battleground — Zoom announced a number of new AI-powered capabilities delivered in partnership with Otter.ai. These include the ability to transcribe meetings, capture action items, and automatically produce meeting highlights, as well as enhancements to existing virtual background capabilities. Zoom lags a bit behind some of its competitors, most notably Cisco, which has made AI the centerpiece of its “Cognitive Collaboration” story and has acquired a number of AI vendors to enable it to deliver meeting transcription, person identification, and voice control. Microsoft, too, has focused on using its AI capabilities from Azure to deliver features like background blur and real-time translation to its Teams Meeting capabilities. Others, like Blue Jeans Network and LogMeIn’s GoToMeeting, recently announced AI capabilities to capture meeting notes, highlights, snippets, and action items. For now, Zoom seems content to stay with the market around AI and leverage partnerships rather than adopt an aggressive approach based on acquisition. That may not be a bad strategy, as our research shows organizations are still trying to understand the AI’s impact and are often reluctant to adopt if it means additional expense.
One thing is clear, Zoom continues to grow. Attendance from 2018 more than doubled, Zoom reported, and Zoomtopia continues to take over more and more of the San Jose Convention Center, home of the event. Zoom’s partner ecosystem continues to evolve, and Zoom customers now have increasing choices for room systems, telephony features, and AI-enabled capabilities to improve the experience before, during, and after a meeting.