Google Just announced the Jamboard, a 4K, 55” Android-powered interactive display that is designed and optimized for collaboration. Although it looks like an electronic white board on the surface, it is so much more than that.
Jamboard is a collaboration tool and a new file format that encapsulate things we do when collaborating on a whiteboard format. The metric of success: you will never take a whiteboard photo again and your productivity should increase. We had some play time with it. First impressions.
A new whiteboard format in the cloud
Part of the Google G Suite, the Google Jamboard is a connected screen that integrates with the existing Google tools such as Google Drive (and Docs), Google’s Communication tools and of course, Google Accounts.
An individual can create a new project, and either invite others to it or let them join as they find the Jamboard and send a request. The owner of the project can accept/reject requests and edit permissions from the board in a similar fashion to Google Docs.
Once in, several people can draw, write, add images, sticky notes, Google Docs, and more to the document. For now, it is possible to create the equivalent of 20 whiteboard screens; a virtual surface area deemed enough, but it’s not a hard limit. Google could change that in the future if needed. Everything is saved to the cloud in real-time.
For now, Docs, Pages and other potentially “living” elements that are susceptible to change later are added as “snapshots”, and won’t auto-update or be updated in the session. Technically, it could be possible to make them self-update (Google looked at it) but most of the time, the user intent is to capture a snapshot. Also, the Jamboard is not the ideal medium to update documents, but Google says that if there’s a demand, it will consider it.
Designed to be intuitive
After an introduction to Jamboard, we were left to try things with the board, and its usage is extremely easy and natural. As you can see on the design, it looks like a regular whiteboard, including the tray to put the markers and erasers. It was intentionally build to feel familiar, but there are details that show the care the product team had when designing:
The markers, erasers, and tray, are magnetized, so they never fall to the ground. The markers even have a flat site, to further prevent rolling motion. The screen’s touch display can tell the difference between markers and fingers. You can erase with your fingers if you want, but the eraser is there to make Jamboard feel more natural.
The user interface is very intuitive. I could create a Jam session, draw, cut, move and add information without any trouble. The electronic ink is fast, which is a critical element for any whiteboard application, and there’s even a shape and text recognition function if you want to enable text-search or have a cleaner look for your document.
Built-in communications and collaboration
The Google Jamboard has a built-in camera and can act as a Google Hangout video-call box. Google demonstrated using the Jamboard for video conversations, or as part of a larger Google multiscreen video-conferencing room. The multi-screen experience is best to maximize the whiteboard surface, but dedicating a small portion of the surface to see your colleagues worked well too.
Contribute with Phones and Tablets
Jamboard is about collaboration, and one would expect participants from different offices to have one in each location. However, remote workers can also contribute using tablets and phones. There are two distinct use cases here.
Tablets have the full functionality of the Jamboard. Anything that the Jamboard can do, an iOS or Android tablet will support as well (if hardware allows). Yes. It means that tablets owners in SMBs can use this new format without buying the full-size device (which remains the optimal solution for enterprises). This could also open the door to 3rd party solutions based on Android-powered TVs, but it’s too early to tell.
Phones can be used to contribute, but won’t feature the full functionality. This makes sense because the whiteboard experience on a small screen is predictably poor. However, you can upload photos and add media to a Jam session from your phone. Joining via Hangout should work too.
Take your session with you
Because the whole session is recorded to the cloud, you no longer need to scramble to take photos at the end of the meeting. Also, if you get the typical “hey, we booked the room” from another team, it’s easy just to log off, and restart at a different location.
Of course, you can continue working on the session from a tablet, and sessions can be viewed from the web, or exported as (static) PDF files, which is hugely useful as a means to quickly send snapshots.
Conclusion and Pricing
The overall user experience was stellar. Google Jamboard is the most advanced “white-board style” collaboration tool I’ve seen to date. At the moment, Google has kept things as simple as possible, using both internal teams and select Google G Suite customers (like Netflix) as early users.
Jamboard is targeted at enterprises, and with a priced of $6000, it is an aggressive entry into this market, for a good product that has little competition in the real world. Over time, and if 3rd party hardware vendors jump in, you could see prices drop further. BenQ is Google’s hardware partner for this project.
Availability, and OS support
Google will continue to refine the final design of the Jamboard, which should be available “in 2017” (we guess by summer 2017). With today’s announcement, Google also opens the Early Adopter Program (EAP), so if your company is interested, contact the Jamboard Team.