BYOD and Mobile Videoconferencing: Hype and Reality

In a recent article, I described the potential of the iPhone 5 to serve as a pocket sized VC codec. I have not yet tested to determine if the experience provided by hooking an iPhone to a 22″ monitor is acceptable for business class videoconferencing (if you have tried this, please tell us how it went in the comment section below). However, if the iPhone 5 isn’t up to the task, the iPhone 6 probably will be, and if not, the iPhone 7 surely will. The point is, in the very near future, we will be walking around with handheld devices with good enough cameras, and more than enough processing power, to push quality HD video to a standard monitor while supporting a robust business class videoconferencing application.

Videoconferencing

Seems simple enough, but a comment on a LinkedIn discussion suggested there may be a problem, noting that it is not ideal to carry a 22″ monitor around with your iPhone. This comment is a perfect representation of the confusion around BYOD and Mobile VC. First of all, they are not the same thing. One is about which device you use, and the other regards where you use it. In my opinion, both are significant industry trends, but BYOD will be a bigger deal, and have a bigger impact, in the very near future.

As shown above, you can BYOD without being mobile, and you can be mobile without BYOD, and you can do both. The reason the BYOD circle is bigger is because, while I expect and hope that mobile uses for VC will flourish, I still expect the majority of VC use will be non-mobile. On the other hand, I think everyone is going to want to use their own devices to do everything. BYOD goes way beyond videoconferencing.

The largest area in the diagram above is the section of the BYOD circle for non-mobile uses. Interestingly, while I clearly feel this is where the action is, this is also the area that gets the least amount of analyst coverage and press. Let’s be perfectly clear what we are talking about here, forget for a moment about using FaceTime while in line in the bank. We are talking about using your phone / tablet to power your currently held videoconferencing meetings at the workplace.

The LinkedIn comment I mentioned above failed to note that many places where you would want to have a videoconferencing session (offices / meeting rooms) already have monitors in place and the growing “hoteling” movement will only increase this dynamic. Of course you don’t want to carry a monitor around with you, but if the monitor happens to be there, and your phone happens to be a pocket sized video codec, you are good to go. Better yet, what if every person in the meeting potentially has their own personal pocket-sized video codec, ready to be connected to the monitor and provide business class VC? Talk about redundancy and backup!

Today there still may be quality concerns for this type of phone powered VC. However, even if phones and tablets can’t complete with today’s top of the line VC endpoints, they can at least get the job done in a pinch. Think about it, even last year’s phones have far more processing power than the top of the line 2005 business class videoconferencing endpoints, and many of those old VC devices are still in use in meeting rooms around the world.

The benefits of BYOD are hard to discount. Compare the cost of an expensive codec for that meeting room, to buying a $30 adapter to connect your existing iPad to your existing monitor. The numerous “ease of use” benefits are perhaps even more attractive. Today’s information worker has to deal with too many applications and interfaces, which is stressful and hampers productivity. With BYOD, you use the same app, interface, directory, etc., whether you are having a meeting in your office, your meeting room, your boss’s office, your home office, or a partner / client’s location.

In the literal sense, this is all “mobility” as we are using devices in different locations. However, up till this point, I have been talking about BYOD for the same kind of meetings we hold today, whereas with “Mobile VC” we are generally discussing an entirely new meeting dynamic. When I talk about mobile video, I am talking about the road warrior stuff. The sales guy in the field, or the boss getting a remote tour of the new factory. These are locations where you do not have easy access to a monitor, and must use the 4″ or 10″ screen on your phone / tablet.

Many people have just outright dismissed “road warrior” mobile VC as being silly, all hype, lacking viability for real world use. During any mobile VC discussion, someone will be quick to point out that it won’t work in elevators or tunnels, it would be awkward on line at the bank, it really isn’t safe to video while driving, it would be rude at the library, etc. Yes, of course standard audio phone calls will be preferable in those situations and many others. However, this list of silly uses for mobile VC does not negate the laundry list of real and valuable business uses for mobile VC. The following Venn diagram illustrates how I feel we have misrepresented the potential of mobile videoconferencing.

Why are we talking about VC in the car, when we should be talking about VC at your client’s location, allowing your experts to quickly provide support and service in complicated situations? The list of possible uses in the medical field alone is incredibly exciting. For example, consider the potential for emergency room doctors to be virtually present at the scene of accidents, providing support to first responders. Contractors can get better input from designers and architects during the course of building projects. Schools can provide virtual field trips to any location. Bottom line, there is nothing silly about the ability for organizations to be able to provide a face to face meeting between any two people at any two locations at any time.

For those who still say it is silly, and that VC on a 4″ screen is no better than a phone call, please try the following experiment. Next time you are on a business trip far from your family, at the end of the day talk to them on the phone for 5 minutes from your hotel room. Then, switch to video on your tablet, or even on a small phone screen and watch as the following three things happen. 1. You smile without realizing it. 2. Your spouse/kids smile without realizing it. 3. You feel a heck of a lot less lonely. In my opinion, there is nothing silly about that.

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