Sunday, January 06, 2008

where is videoconferencing heading in the future?

The convenience of videoconferencing is not that hard to promote. The advantages - like those shown in this simple but cute ad, and many more like it - are pretty ho-hum by now:

Of course we know that videoconferencing replaces traveling and all its inconveniences. Yet we still do it. Yes, it's great to talk to someone from halfway round the world in an instant. But phone was the same 50 years ago.

So if it's all a little commonplace and predictable, what's the future of videoconferencing in 2008 and 5 years beyond?

I don’t think much will improve until a 'next big thing' like full color holography emerges. And hopefully not like this 1980's Star Wars version:

In the meantime I'm predicting we'll be making smaller increments of change:

- Video call quality will improve. That's a given. With all the emphasis presently put on videoconferencing as a foreign medium (not as easy to use as the phone, and 50% of the population so far not wanting it), there's not many places to go except stepping up the quality. Even so, improving quality will attract people like me, but the masses won't notice.

- The desktop will reign because it's convenient and cheap. Think how hard it is for the average person to set up a dedicated videoconferencing room with proper lighting and sound. Even though I'm a stickler for quality, I'm still very satisfied with my setup... natural window light, my Polycom Communicator for the best sound outside a head mic, and the Skype High Quality video. It will take a big quality jump to get an improvement on that.

- High definition will get better, but won't help much. Last year I went to a LifeSize demo in my city because I was curious to find out the advantages, if any, of true high definition. I wasn't that impressed. It turned out exactly as I expected. The 42" flat screen on the wall still contained a "tv announcer," and the conversation was a little disembodied as a result of a lack of high quality audio. That's the problem... HiDef videoconferencing today still looks like we're interacting with a better quality tv. The personal interaction is lost - a step removed from reality - which is the holy grail of videoconferencing.

Here's another LifeSize ad which tries to bridge this reality gap, and I think does it quite well:

- Interfaces will improve. I hope so. The Skype window, similar in design to SightSee, is very unattractive. Like Google and Amazon, it is in that state because it's simple. But simple is not always best because these interfaces are not intuitive and it's still hard to use. I hope they improve it somehow.

- Multitasking will get better. Split screens for video and data will become more important. Imagine talking with a relative and showing a photo of your family trip to them in another window. Or bringing up a website on the data window while you're talking about a product. It's done now, but not easily. This futuristic Apple ad on videoconferencing shows how well that integration (around 6:40) could be:

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