In a recent post, Why voice is the next big Internet wave, telephony futurist Martin Geddes discusses “a wave of innovation that fundamentally alters the definition” of voice as “a mature technology that simply connects people in real-time across a distance”. In one of his points he talks about “Beyond the Call”:
Sadly, we are still replicating the patterns and limitations of 1876 telephony with the idea of a call today. We either schedule calls with fixed timing, length and attendees or blindly interrupt people. Future voice communication will mirror the more fluid activity streams on Facebook, Yammer or Google Hangouts. We will invite others into a call as needed, allowing them to jump in and out of conversations seamlessly. Outside calls or cold calls will come with a “conversation request,” where the caller pitches the receiver on why he or she should answer and invest their time.
Recently launched Voxeet, a unique voice conference call platform, provides a sampling of the user experience accompanying some of these concepts. While Voxeet allows you to either launch an ad hoc conversation or schedule a conference call, the conference call session itself introduces spatial reality to immerse participants in a 3D audio experience where, from the audio perspective, you feel like you and the other participants are around the table in a physical office or conference room. It also takes advantage of superwideband codecs, such as Opus, to ensure the same crisp voice experienced in a physical office or boardroom.
Available on Windows or Mac PC’s as well as iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, Voxeet employs WebRTC to make accessing a call as simple as tapping on a contact or accepting an incoming call notification. No third party plugins are involved.
On installation Voxeet can search your address book for those who are registered on Voxeet; you can also invite selected contacts to install it.
Starting an ad hoc call is as simple as selecting a Voxeet contact and tapping on the Call button. Scheduling a call involves setting up a meeting in Outlook, iCal, Google Calendar, etc. and adding firstname.lastname@example.org to the attendees invited to participate. No passcodes or PIN numbers are involved at any point; you have to be invited and answer an incoming call to join a Voxeet conference call.
A scheduled call launches by making outbound calls to all the participants and bringing them into the call. Clicking on “Answer” immediately brings up the call manager screen showing the “position” of all the participants in the room.
Voxeet recommends using a headset but also a stereo speaker set will provide the 3D “office table” immersion experience. Initially I heard “Jim” in the left speaker of the headset and “Sue” in the right one. But while using a touch gesture to move Sue across the room “to my left” Adrianne joined the call. Then I hear “Sue” on the left and “Adrianne” on the right while “Jim” is now across the table on the left. Also notice that by tapping on the arrow on the upper right, a bar showing the status of each participant also pops up.
Voxeet also incorporates “Talk Over”. Instead of hand raising and moderator control over who is speaking on the call Voxeet, emulating the experience of a physical meeting, allows multiple participants to speak at the same time. On the other hand there is the capability to mute a participant to address background noise issues such as barking dogs, crying babies, revved up Honda Civics, etc. When a participant is speaking, the speaker volume level indicator to the right of the speaker’s avatar becomes active, identifying who is speaking.
Participants without access to the Voxeet client can dial into calls via local dial-in numbers in over 40 countries; however, those participants will require a PIN number from the meeting invitation and will not experience the 3D HD immersive call experience.
Voxeet definitely provides an innovative new “Natural Conferencing” call experience:
- Joining a call is an “instant” process; simply touch the Accept button and you are immediately in the call management interface
- Launching a call with an individual Voxeet contact is simply a matter of clicking on the Call button on the Contact’s card
- Participants in your Voxeet Contacts can be readily added to a call simply by clicking the “+” icon in the upper left and selecting from your Voxeet Contacts list
- The 3D effect allows you, at your discretion, to position participants “around the table” as if all participants are in the same room.
- Incorporating superwideband codecs provides the crisp, clear audio as if all participants were physically in the same room.
- “Talk over” emulates the reality that in many meetings two or more participants may try to speak at the same time.
- Participants can join a call from PC’s and mobile devices (very handy for road warriors)
- Participants can move a call between supported devices during the call
In our initial trials, we found some minor issues that have since been addressed with new releases across all supported platforms two weeks ago. Speaking with one of their spokespeople, Voxeet has been doing some pioneering development work using WebRTC and continue the fine tuning.
Going forward it will be interesting to see if Voxeet can round out to a complete collaboration experience incorporating additional features such as document sharing and call recording as well as Bluetooth audio support.
Bottom line: Voxeet provides a unique and immersive conference call experience mirroring “the more fluid activity streams on Facebook, Yammer or Google Hangouts”. Participants can “invite others into a call as needed, allowing them to jump in and out of conversations seamlessly”. “Outside calls or cold calls will come with a “conversation request,” [Ed: or meeting invitation] where the caller pitches the receiver on why he or she should answer and invest their time.”
It’s definitely one incremental step contributing to “ a wave of innovation that fundamentally alters the definition” of voice calling as well as an excellent demonstration of the potential of the WebRTC voice calling user experience.
Note: Screenshots come from a call on my iPhone 5 (iOS7) while sitting in a restaurant parking lot using my carrier connection and Voxeet’s recently released version 2.1.0; however, the user experience is similar on all supported platforms and devices.
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Andy Abramson comments on the state of WebRTC: WebRTC is Here, Now and You’re Already Using It