Former Cisco engineers launching alternative video conferencing for SMBs

Zoom is launching a new collaboration and online meeting product called Zoom Presence, allowing users to start video conferencing from almost any device. Essentially, its creators consider it a better product than Cisco WebEx – and they were all once Cisco employees.

Based in Santa Clara, Calif., Zoom was the offshoot of about 26 Cisco engineers who helped build WebEx from the ground up. Three years ago, founder Eric Yuan and his team built Zoom to appeal to small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) and to create a new product that would improve upon what Cisco was already offering. The product is also meant to compete with Google Chromebox, as well as Microsoft Lync.

“If you think about it, in the PC era, people were just sharing desktops and then sharing content. Video was not a big thing in the PC era. But in the post-PC era, which is where we are right now, video is in your phone, video is in your tablet, video is in your computer – everything has a video camera built in it … People expect real dialogue and to talk face-to-face,” says Nick Chong, head of product marketing at Zoom. He left Cisco to work at Zoom about nine months after his colleagues founded the new startup.

(Image: Zoom).
(Image: Zoom).

In Chong’s mind, Cisco’s WebEx product isn’t as functional, as it only allows video conferencing for up to nine people, nor is the video quality very good. By contrast, Zoom allows 100 users to be part of one video conferencing meeting.

Plus, Chong adds, in the age of the bring-your-own-device trend, people want to be to connect using just about any consumer-oriented mobile device – and they want to do it without needing to bring cables and wires to connect to a projector, or the help of an IT department to manage the product.

While ZoomPresence was released in beta in April, this is now the official launch of the product, which currently attracts about 20,000 customers using both the free and paid versions. The basic difference between the free version and the paid version is that the free version will automatically end a call after about 40 minutes, Chong says.

However, users get almost all of the other functionality involved in ZoomPresence, including a new feature that allows them to start meetings with the iPad or Mac Mini as a remote control. By just pressing a button next to a notification for a scheduled meeting, they can get the meeting rolling, and other users can join in with almost any device, including desktop PCs, iPhones, Android phones, and Windows phones. They can also dial in with a regular land line or use their device to join the meeting.

(Image: Zoom).
(Image: Zoom).
(Image: Zoom).
(Image: Zoom).

ZoomPresence is also pretty compatible with most devices, working with a device as old as the first generation iPhone. However, there is currently no support for BlackBerry devices.

With ZoomPresence, users are able to enter their meeting IDs, passcodes, and user numbers, and then share their screens with other participants. Users can also share mobile screens, though when Chong tried to show me this during his demo, the mobile device wouldn’t load.

There are also features allowing users to circle text or pictures on their screens, so they can show everyone else what they’re referring to during a meeting. They can privately instant message each other, message within group chats, and record meetings to review later.

“There are very little solutions out there that are able to incorporate your mobile experience, your desktop, and your conference room into one,” Chong says. “Now we’re adding ZoomPresence, which brings the conference room into the picture as well.”

As ZoomPresence is mostly targeted towards the SMB market, pricing is set at about $99 a year for up to 25 conference participants, or $499 a year for up to 100 users.

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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