But Zoom’s Ease of Use and Broad Compatibility With Existing Devices Begs the Question: What Real-world Problem, if any, Does This Product Attempt to Solve?
The News: Zoom (NASDAQ: ZM), the Teleconferencing and remote collaboration company that helped businesses around the world adjust virtually overnight to Coronavirus shut-downs, just dipped its toe in one of the most fascinating new digital transformation trends: the so-called “enterprise renovation of the home,” with a new standalone video-conferencing appliance. The device, christened simply Zoom for Home – DTEN ME, is an all-in-one communications appliance developed by partner DTEN with Zoom software already built-in.
What it essentially looks like is a slick 27” multi-touch 1080p, 16:9 aspect-ratio standalone 24.25 x 15.4 x 4.1 in (616mm x 391mm x 104mm) display equipped with a 3-camera array, an 8-microphone array, and integrated Speakers. As with other enterprise-class devices of this type, Zoom for Home’s microphones have a pickup range of up to 16 ft, and come with acoustic echo cancellation, automatic gain control, and automatic noise cancellation/reduction. Network specs include Ethernet (RJ-45) 100 Mbp, with support for Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, 802.11ac (2.4 and 5 GHz), IPv4 Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)/ Static, and HTTP/HTTPS Proxy Support. The system also comes with an HDMI and an Ethernet LAN (RJ45) input/output.
Some of the more notable UX-friendly features I noticed were the wide-angle cameras, which allow the device (designed for rooms up to 16’x16’ – or 5 square meters) to not crop anyone out of the frame, a whiteboarding and annotation mode, and easy synch with your calendar. The Zoom for Home device is designed to be ready to launch right out of the box through quick code-pairing procedure, and is as easy to use as simply selecting the desired function from the screen. The price-point for this device is $599.
Zoom’s ease of use and broad compatibility with existing devices makes a $599 dedicated bit of hardware seem redundant and unnecessary: What actual problem does this product attempt to solve?
Analyst Take: This device reminds me a lot of Cisco’s Webex Desk Pro and Webex Board, so right off the bat, the standalone Zoom for Home device is more of an also-in product than a breakthrough in teleconferencing. Having said that, the specs are solid, the design is slick, and it might not be a bad idea for IT departments to think about investing in these standalone devices where it makes sense to. It is true that having a device with specs that perfectly match the communication platform it will be used with can eliminate some headaches for users whose laptops and tablets may not always be as up-to-date as they could be, or whose resources may be taxed by other applications. Having said that, I see a few challenges facing Zoom here, and I am not sure that the company’s Zoom for Home product will scale as well as the company might hope.
For starters, let’s talk about the price: $599. Or rather, let’s talk about opportunity cost. A quick search will reveal that IT departments could just as easily spend $599 on a new laptop for a remote worker who needs one. Given how much more utility a new laptop (on which Zoom will work just fine) will provide that worker, the question becomes obvious: why would any IT department spend $599 apiece for these standalone devices when similarly-priced laptops will run Zoom just as well? In fact, because the appeal of Zoom is that it works so well on most devices, offering a standalone Zoom teleconferencing appliance seems unnecessarily redundant. If this appliance fell more inside of $299 or even $399 (well below the price of a mid-range laptop), it might make sense. But at $599, that value equation begins to unravel.
Second, the other problem with asking IT departments (or solopreneurs and contractors) to invest $599 in a standalone Zoom solution is that it locks them into both the hardware AND the platform. The everyday reality of IT and agile collaboration in 2020 and beyond is that it has to remain fluid, flexible, and as versatile as possible. Realistically, remote workers need to be able to switch between Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex Teams, and a half dozen other platforms throughout the day. A $599 device that locks users into just one platform AND that won’t be easily upgradable a year or two from now may not make as much sense as just upgrading a laptop.
Thirdly, whereas a tablet and a laptop are portable, this device is not. That too, creates a value proposition challenge for users, many of whom may end up using their more laptops more often than the appliance itself, if nothing else, out of sheer convenience.
Lastly, while Zoom for Home is a beautifully-designed product, it does require its own dedicated area that is likely to interfere with a remote worker’s already limited workspace: Whether someone merely uses a laptop, or a desktop computer, or an array of computer monitors, this essentially becomes one more screen to that one needs to make room for. Not that this challenge is a non-starter, but many remote workers may simply not have room for another screen, meaning that this particular device may actually be better suited for small conference rooms than for home offices.
It isn’t really in my DNA to dispense with pessimism, particularly when it comes to technology, but looking at this through the prism of both an IT professional with very tight budget constraints AND through the eyes of the kind of person that this product is intended to be for, I have a difficult time making the business case for why most people would ever need a dedicated $599 Zoom appliance to make Zoom calls with. This seems more like a solution in search of a problem than a solution truly designed to address a widespread problem: Zoom already works well on most devices. The biggest challenge facing Zoom users – aside from Zoom’s past security issues – is residential bandwidth, not securing dedicated desktop hardware. All of that to say that I like what I see here, and I understand why Zoom would want to broaden its stake in the enterprise renovation of the home, but this particular solution at that particular price doesn’t strike me as the best way to go about it successfully, at least at scale.
As one of my colleagues put it a few days ago, “What problem does this try to solve? Zoom should focus on its core business, on doing what it does well, instead of getting distracted by shiny hardware that no one really asked for.” Harsh, but probably also on the money.
To be continued.
Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.