Google just introduced Chromebox for meeting, a new integrated system that lets users easily arrange virtual meetings whether scheduled in Google Calendar or spontaneous. Based on Chrome OS, Chromebox for meeting is a dedicated enterprise/SMB virtual conferencing appliance that is designed to be much more affordable and easier to setup than existing solutions.
While we were at the Google campus in Mountain View, we watched a demonstration which showed an easy workflow with great video quality. Of course, the video quality will depend on how fast your own Internet connection is, and the Google campus is certainly well equipped, but this is something that is true for any other system. Since this is based on Google hangout, you can simply use Google Hangout to assess the video quality that you will get with Chromebox.
Talking about video quality, the Chromebox is equipped with a Core i7 processor, so it is possible that it actually has more “muscles” than your current laptop, and certainly more than business video-conferencing equipment that I am familiar with. Although a very fast processor isn’t always required for a one-to-one video chat session, Google wants to make sure that multiple streams are handled nicely and at the highest quality possible – that is why Chromebox for Meetings comes with a powerful Core i7 processor.
Participants can connect to a meeting using another Chromebox for meeting, or simply via Google Hangout from a computer or a phone/tablet (the two persons in the second photo were conferencing in from their phones). While this system is built to bring video conferencing in a physical meeting room, it does not require participants to be in the same corporate network, so it’s easy to invite contractors, interns and job candidates into meetings. This is great because I always felt that the typical “security” features that forced people to be in the same network, and use VPN were overkill. The only thing that is required here is a Google account.
The bottom-line is that this seems to be a very effective system for small businesses, but also larger organizations. And it’s not like the meetings are unsecure: Google hangout is secure out of the box, and it’s very hard for a third party to tap into your video stream (I haven’t heard of Hangouts hacking yet). Now, I suspect that defense contractors or companies that are extremely paranoid about the security of their video streams may want to keep those in house, but ultimately, the rest of the market is large enough for Google to keep busy for a very long time.
There are a few things that makes Google’s offering particularly compelling: First, the setup is easier and more open than existing enterprise systems. Second, it is considerably cheaper ($999 for the kit, $250/yr subscription) than most of the enterprise video conferencing kits that you have seen in your career. Finally, Hangout has a great video quality and can scale since it is said to be backed by the same video infrastructure as Youtube.
I’m looking forward to seeing how well this system will do in the market, but out of the box, Google Chromebox for meeting is a proposition that makes sense. It’s cheaper, better and faster, and as consumers, that’s exactly what we expect from technology. Established video-conferencing companies need to rethink everything: quality, user interface, pricing, products… and they don’t have much time.