In previous posts I have mentioned how the iPad is an ideal form factor for a “Desktop phone” experience, whether using CounterPath’s Bria, as a business phone extension, or Skype for iPad, targeted largely to the consumer and small business market. This is especially true for video calling where the 10” screen combined with the iPad’s portability is an ideal format.
Today at DEMO Fall 2011, a new player, but with lots of veteran IP-communications experience, announced their forthcoming entry into the fray with an offering targeted at the small-to-medium business and enterprise market. Hookflash has been designed from scratch to take full advantage of the iPad’s display format and touch screen features to provide a unique business class video calling experience.
According to Trent Johnsen, Hookflash’s CEO and co-Founder, in a press release today:
“With Hookflash, millions of iPad users will immediately have access to the powerful communication capabilities previously limited to expensive corporate telephone and video conferencing systems. Leveraging the iPad’s size, touch-based controls and connectivity allowed us to create an integrated experience that will dramatically improve how people work.”
In addition, Hookflash will offer a docking station which hold the iPad but also provide a familiar phone handset for picking up the voice channel of a call. When away from the office, the iPad (say, with a mounting case) remains a convenient form factor for handling video calls.
Hookflash does not simply provide voice, video and chat support with a heavy focus on collaboration, including group video calling, but also leverages social networking tools to provide unique “participant profiles automatically created from information extracted from business and social networks — all seamlessly integrated within an intuitive interface.”
The touch screen user interface allows swipes to be use for activities such as exiting and entering a group video call without killing the conversation. There is also a feature where two video calls can be brought together.
Other features include:
- One-on-one and group video, voice and chat;
- View all active conversations in one place;
- Merge together or divide active group text, voice and video conversations, with a simple swipe of the finger;
- View real-time social and business profiles right inside Hookflash;
- Transfer calls at the click of a button;
- Record and share previously captured conversations–voice, video and chat.
In effect Hookflash proposes to offer a social media-enhanced business video calling experience where participant background, through social networking services and contact information, is available by simply by touching on a participant’s picture. Hookflash’s key value-add appears to be the comprehensive user interface and its ability to quickly show participant information, merge calls, make call transfers, peer into the cloud for background information, and manage other aspects of the call, including recording for later recall.
But what are its chances for market adoption?
- Do business users want the level of information being offered? Can it become distracting to the call’s primary agenda?
- How will it build up a user base? Being targeted to the business and enterprise market requires management endorsement and support.
- What is the level of interoperability? Can multi-party call participants be brought in from, say, the PSTN or other platforms such as PC’s and smartphones?
- How quickly can it become available on other platforms? While certainly the iPad has had huge adoption, how soon will it be supported on other platforms that may be more convenient to some users?
- What are the demands on the network connection? Especially when it comes to considering 3G/LTE data plans and roaming charge issues?
While Hookflash looks to be an alternative to Skype here are some issues they need to address:
- the network effect. How will Hookflash build a user base or will it be restricted to participants within an individual business’s ecosystem?
- platforms: at the moment it requires all participants to have an iPad. While expansion to support iPhone is fairly obvious, what about PC’s, Android devices, TV’s?
- what will the Microsoft acquisition of Skype bring to the table in terms of offerings for the small-to-medium business and enterprise market? Not to mention that Microsoft has already built up a significant business and enterprise customer base.
And finally, where is the revenue model? According to their Home Page “Hookflash for iPad is a free communications app that makes working together easy.” In the long term “free” does not pay the bills.
From reviewing their website, which appears to be incomplete at this point (the video and trial “sign up” is not available for instance), Hookflash overlays social networking for contextual information about participants, end-to-end call management (set up –> call with management –> archiving) and integration with other key services (Outlook Calendar, YouTube, Plancast) onto an open source peer-to-peer voice, video and text chat communications platform. It really remains to see it in action to determine its ease of use, level of market adoption and potential for revenue generation.
Bottom line: based on the limited information available Hookflash layers significant user interface features onto voice, video and text conversations. However, given Skype’s network effect and broad platform support, I can see Hookflash being considered as an acquisition by a post-Microsoft acquisition Skype business unit to provide a richer video calling experience.
- Demo: Hookflash aims to make phone calls at work more productive (venturebeat.com)