For more than 20 years, Cisco has held sway in networking, but questions about Cisco’s relevance to the end user and in the application space have been left unanswered. The tech world collectively held its breath when Cisco acquired the Flip camera in 2009 and took over TANDBERG in 2010, and released its Cius tablet later that same year.
Cisco collaboration solutions have been quietly effective without setting the corporate world on fire. That all changed last week when Cisco officially launched the aptly named Spark Board.
Cisco, like Apple, has a knack for taking an existing technology and virtually reinventing it. With Spark Board, Cisco has taken the collaboration surface and made it infinitely better.
Being avid Cisco Spark users and integrators, the POMT team was lucky enough to get a sneak peek and access to the pre-production models of the board throughout 2016. Now that it’s here we think we can cut through all the hype and present the following seven reasons (in order of coolness) as to why this product is Cisco’s Apple iPhone moment.
- Ultrasound thingamajig
Spark Board will connect to any laptop or mobile device without the need for a WiFi, network or Bluetooth connection. It does this via ultrasound wireless pairing technology.
Yeah, that’s exactly what we thought! However the Spark Board’s ultrasound technology can automatically detect, identify and pair with users and devices nearby. It does this seamlessly with the launch of the Spark app on your device.
- In(-and-out-of)-meeting messaging
When Cisco officially launched its Spark messaging platform at Enterprise Connect in 2015, it was plain to see the potential roadmap Cisco had before them. However, when we first saw the Spark Board, we were unsure how well the messaging capabilities would translate to a meeting environment.
It translates just fine: the added ability to chat to participants during meetings is very cool.
In addition, when the meeting finishes the chat does not, allowing post meeting thoughts to flow between attendees (and others outside the meeting) for as long you like. We also love the Zeetings and HipChat platforms here at POMT and as the Spark APIs are published integration is a breeze. As the Spark APIs are published, integration with these other platforms is a breeze. We have no doubt that once it is experienced, users will flock to Spark Board’s In-meeting Messaging.
- Whiteboard with a difference
OK, OK, nothing new here; this tech has been with us for many years. However, Cisco’s Spark Board adds new spice to the mix by allowing any individual Spark app user to annotate in real time on the Spark Board simultaneously … and they don’t even have to be in the same room.
- On-board camera and microphone
Whilst there is likely to still be a need for microphone and camera deployments in larger spaces, the Spark Board has a 4K video camera with a wide-angle mode and Cisco’s legendary beamforming microphone array technology all nestled around the frame of the board. What’s more, those microphones are ‘voice-tracking’ enabled with the ability to focus on the speaker in any given room configuration.
- No control system
Cisco has taken the unusual step of not shipping a control interface for the Spark Board. All navigation is done either via the board’s touch screen itself or the app on a mobile device. While you can overlay a third party control system, the user interface is so intuitively simple (and dare we say ‘sexy’) that we can’t imagine why you would!
- ‘Plug and play’ … no kidding
Yeah, we know … we should never utter those words, it doesn’t happen right? Well now it does. Yes, really. We watched an out-of-the-box set up and before we could reach for our stopwatch the deed was done. We are talking Spark Room deployments in less than ten minutes, including unboxing, mounting, setup and go time!
- The price
So, perhaps this should have been the number one reason! We’d be the first to agree with you that Cisco has never been considered cheap … Proper videoconferencing codecs beyond the $15k mark has been the norm. So imagine how surprised we were when a sub $7k price was put before us. We thought Cisco had misplaced a digit!
Spark comes of age
So there you have it; “just another collaboration surface” you say? Hardly! What Cisco has achieved in its first cut of the Spark Board takes the Meeting Room collaboration screen from being a kind of cool thing that some organisations have been using to a truly breakthrough hardware technology. When overlayed with the best collaboration platforms on the market today, that changes the question about implementing collaborative whiteboards from “why” to “why not” … and at that point the list of technology options becomes very short indeed …