Over the past two weeks there have been several announcements and activities related to the personal conversation space:
- Skype announced its Skype 4.0 beta program trialing a “full desktop” interface.
- SightSpeed announced an improved SightSpeed client with many engineering improvements to enhance video and audio quality
- SightSpeed for Business announced a 9-party video conferencing capability
- iotum launched its rebranded CalliFlower voice conferencing platform
- Dell announced their new Studio line of prosumer laptops incorporating Dell Video Chat powered by SightSpeed.
And the combination of these announcements, along with my own experience in using these services, hit home once again that it’s all about the user experience. This market needs to remain competitive through innovation but at the same time it’s also measured against performance, process and marketing. Skype and iotum have set some standards to be met, including:
- High Quality Video that has turned my lethargy about video calling into an enthusiastic user whenever feasible. Its 640 x 480 @ 30 frames per second over widely available (cable and DSL) broadband connections, along with top quality webcam optics, sets the standard I am looking for.
- Echo cancellation: while I continue to use a headset for privacy and courtesy reasons, most of my Skype calls are to contacts who are using the basic microphone and speakers provided as the basic configuration of a PC.
- Wideband or HD audio: provides an clarity of sound that constantly amazes. Unfortunately, our legacy phone system makes compromises that we have to live with but when it comes to VoIP-based services I want that HD voice.
- Complementary services: iotum’s interactive participant interface richly enhances the voice conference call experience.
- Upgrades: when I do an upgrade I just want the new version to work. No hangups, no PC freezes. Whereas upgrades could be the cause of much angst ten to fifteen years ago, upgrades offered to the public today – especially if enforced – need to “just work”. And these days I find most offerings meet that standard.
- Auxiliary services such as conversation archiving and file transfer.
- Beta programs are just that: programs to try out new concepts and get user feedback. Pre-Internet I ran software beta programs out of the public eye; today many services and offerings tend to leave their offering in a state of “constant beta” in the public eye such that users don’t realize that beta means provide feedback and check out the various phases as the offering evolves. But please don’t equate beta with the “officially released” product.
And my “like-to-have” list includes:
- Multi-party video conferencing
- Improved conversation management; switch readily between multiple conversations and see a record of all activities with a contact.
- Improved marketing at all the service providers: give us the straight goods, what is the benefit to the user? Forget the technology accomplishments, yes we appreciate – it’s about the user uptake and experience.
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