Zoomtopia is one of our favorite industry events. Although it’s a relatively small show with only a few thousand attendees, Zoomtopia brings a combination of Zoomie warmth and a razor-sharp focus on our coverage areas.
First, while the event MC, Alex Borstein, was a bit unconventional, the keynotes were quite good and included a fine mix of Zoom announcements and customer/partner discussions. We especially enjoyed the fireside chat between Zoom CEO Eric Yuan and HP CEO Enrique Lores.
Every year, I find myself appreciating CEO Eric Yuan that much more. He is every bit as approachable and “nice” as he was before Zoom’s IPO. How many billionaires do you know who serve customers food during events?
At this year’s Zoomtopia, Zoom also ran a content track to help C-level executives define their companies’ collaboration and hybrid work strategies. While my schedule allowed me to attend and participate in only a small part of this track, the feedback from the attendees was extremely positive.
The Zoomtopia show floor included booths large and small from several dozen vendors, including (in alphabetical order) AVer, Biamp, Coolpo, Crestron, Dell, DTEN, EPOS, Intel, Jabra, Lenovo, Logitech, MaxHub, Neat, Nureva, Poly / HP, QSC (Q-Sys), Shure, and Yealink.
This year’s event seemed a bit “muted” compared to prior in-person Zoomtopias. Why? One possible reason is that Zoom isn’t the daredevil, rule-breaking startup it was years ago and can no longer afford to act that way. Today, Zoom is all business – and rightfully so. This event was still exciting. It just wasn’t hyperactive.
At Zoomtopia 2022, Zoom made a series of announcements, including new offerings, new features, new experiences, and more. Detailed information can be found at these three URLs:
Instead of covering every newsworthy item ad nauseum, we’ve decided to provide our thoughts on a handful of what we believe were the most interesting announcements.
Note – Zoom also announced Zoom Mesh at the show. We covered Zoom Mesh in detail within this Research Note.
Technically speaking, Zoom Spots is a persistent video meeting with a dynamic layout that appears to highlight the active participants.
But experientially speaking, Zoom Spots is a virtual co-working space designed to allow ongoing interactions and discussions with colleagues and team members.
Notably, this is not a new concept. It is essentially a video-enabled “hoot-n-holler” that leverages the Zoom App instead of a phone or other dedicated hardware device (e.g., the turrets used in the investment banking world).
Over the years, we’ve helped many clients create virtual offices, virtual trading floors, virtual sales offices, virtual coding pits, and other video-connected spaces using internal video bridges (the old method) and video calling services (the new method).
So – what’s newsworthy here? With Spots, Zoom has codified the virtual co-working space into an official offering and added features (e.g., easy join, dynamic layouts, etc.) that enhance the user experience. Way cool.
While the details are sketchy at this point (Spots is slated for release in early 2023), we expect many Zoom-powered work teams (including the folks at Recon Research) to give Spots a try.
As an aside, we believe there are privacy, security, and employee satisfaction concerns related to any “always on” video connection. We’ve walked this path before, so we know the real-world gotchas.
For example, what happens when employers expect (meaning require) their staff to be in the team Spot all day? And how long will it be before companies record Spots sessions (officially or not) and use worker participation as a measurement or indication of productivity?
Also, what happens when a worker takes a personal phone call (“yes – I’d like to schedule my procedure”) or confidential phone call (“yes – we’re going to fire half the staff”), but forgets they are still “live” within the Spot? Think about it — Spots will be up 8+ hours a day. How easy will it be to open another app on top of the Zoom app? We assume Spots will offer “mute by default” or “auto mute” functionality, but active participants will likely disable those controls within short order.
To be clear – we believe Zoom is onto something with Spots, but like everything else, the devil will be in the details.
Zoom Mail and Zoom Calendar
Our first thought was, “just what the world needs … yet another mail and calendar client.” But Zoom Mail (Zmail) and Zoom Calendar (Zcal) are NOT really about email or calendaring.
The party line is that Zoom Mail and Calendar are about user efficiency and productivity. Pivoting between apps wastes time, and the ability to “avoid the pivot” was the main selling point of the unified communications (UC) revolution. But Zoom Mail and Calendar are NOT really about productivity.
Zoom Mail and Calendar are about eyeballs. Your eyeballs. My eyeballs. Everyone’s eyeballs. Zoom wants as many eyeballs as possible on the Zoom app for as long as possible.
When viewed through the eyeball lens, all non-Zoom apps are the enemy, and email and calendaring apps are enemy #1. But displacing Microsoft and Google in the email and calendaring game would take money and time.
[ Author’s Note – Zoom has lots of cash on hand (north of $5B as of last quarter), but that’s not enough to buy a reasonable share of the email and calendar market. Also, Zoom can’t wait the N years it would take for billions of users to naturally migrate over to Zmail and Zcal. Zoom needs to win mindshare TODAY – not in five years. ]
So, Zoom took the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach.
But isn’t Zoom Mail a competing mail service? Isn’t Zoom Calendar a competing calendaring service? Yes, but also no.
The first capability Zoom lists for its Zoom Mail Client is “Connect your existing third-party email services to the Zoom app.” (Source: Zoom Blog) Similarly, the first feature listed for Zoom Calendar Client is “Connect your existing third-party calendar services to the Zoom app.”
At beta launch, Zoom users will be able to see their Office 365 and Google mail and calendars within the Zoom app. O365 is a staple for many enterprise users, and Google brings SMBs and more.
In other words, the main (or at least most heavily touted) feature of Zmail and Zcal is seeing mail and calendars hosted on other services. That’s why Zmail and Zcal are “join ‘em” initiatives.
Zoom also announced the Zoom Mail and Zoom Calendar Services targeting SMB customers. These services are free with Zoom Pro and Zoom United Pro plans and specific Zoom One licenses. Custom email domains (e.g., @yourcompany.com) are also available.
Will customers use the Zoom Mail and Zoom Calendar services? Yes. We expect some Zoom users will shift over to Zmail and Zcal to save money, but that’s just the icing on the cake. Zoom doesn’t want to be in the email and calendaring business anyway.
Now let’s get to the dollars and cents (or sense). Zoom isn’t charging paying customers extra for Zmail and Zcal, so how does Zoom make money off more eyeball time? That is a great question. For now, the answer is TBD.
OK – so let’s speculate.
Add placement? Perhaps Zoom will take the Netflix route and offer a less expensive, ad-supported version of Zoom. Advertisers could then buy Zoom Ads or Zads. Possible, but unlikely.
Zoom Data Mining? Perhaps, but privacy and GDPR would get in the way.
Upselling to other Zoom services (Zoom Phone, Zoom Webinars and Events, etc.)? Maybe, but additional eyeball time isn’t necessary for upselling.
Inciting a mass defection from Microsoft and Google to Zoom? Great concept, but it’s hard to imagine information workers abandoning these competing providers until Zoom offers groupware apps (e.g., Microsoft Word and Google Sheets) and storage (e.g., OneDrive and Google Drive). Also, we assume that Zmail and Zcal won’t support the standard O365 and Google plug-ins. The prospect of losing plug-ins could keep many users from taking the plunge.
Perhaps Zoom will make it easier and faster for Zmail and Zcal users to book Zoom meetings. Great idea, but again, how does that drive revenue when Zoom plans include unlimited meetings?
What’s left? Mindshare. Zoom wants to be top of mind, and people naturally give more brain time to the apps and services (and companies) they frequent. In the digital world, “if you build it, they will come” translates into “attract them, and they will spend.” Yes, this is a bit soft, but that’s all that comes to mind for now.
Meeting equity. Meeting equality. Multi-stream. Multi-camera. Call it what you wish, but the battle to better capture meeting room participants on camera rages on.
The goal is simple enough – give remote participants a good (meaning tight, head-on) shot of each meeting room participant.
Current (and presumably near-term future) meeting equity solutions send one or more video streams, each containing one or more participants, to the calling service. The service then presents those streams to the far-end participants.
Zoom’s Intelligent Director takes things a step further by analyzing the various video streams, identifying multiple camera angles of the same person, and choosing the best view of that person to send to the remote participants.
So, if video stream 1 has a side view of a participant (see the bottom left window above) and stream 2 has a front view of the same person (see the bottom right window above), Intelligent Director would send video stream 2 to the other participants.
The “choose the best camera view of each person” concept is not new.
- In 2021, Owl Labs released Owl Connect, a feature that allows the use of two Meeting Owl Pro tabletop camera devices in the same room for increased video and audio reach. In this configuration, each Meeting Owl Pro captures each meeting room participant, and Connect automatically chooses which view of each person to send to the remote participants. (Note – we have not tested this capability)
- In October 2022, Logitech announced Logitech Sight, a tabletop camera solution that works in conjunction with a Logitech Rally Bar or Rally Bar Mini installed in the same room (see our Research Note here). Sight is expected to ship in May / June 2023 and will automatically choose which view of each person (the front camera view or the Sight camera view) to send to the remote participants.
- Last week (at Zoomtopia 2022), Neat announced Neat Center, a tabletop camera solution expected to ship in Fall 2023. According to Neat, Center will also choose the best view of each person to send to the far end.
However, as far as we can tell, Zoom is the first service provider to offer this “choose the best view” functionality.
YES – there’s some functionality overlap here. Logitech and Neat will select the best views before sending the video streams to Zoom, which theoretically makes Zoom’s selection process unnecessary. But we need to think beyond the standard “video device + Zoom Rooms” use case.
For example, Logitech and Neat could choose the best camera view of participants while in BYOD (USB) mode or using other calling platforms (e.g., Teams, Google Meet, etc.).
Similarly, Zoom could choose the best camera view of participants when used with devices that can’t pre-select the best camera views.
Of all the solutions mentioned above, only Meeting Owl Connect is generally available and shipping. A lot is happening in the meeting equity arena, so stay tuned!
Zoomtopia is a great annual reminder of the breadth and diversity of the Zoom universe, and this year’s show drew thousands of Zoom staff, customers, resellers, and technology partners.
The main takeaway from our time in San Jose is that Zoom is doing the right things to keep its customers happy and stay top of mind during a time of great confusion in the marketplace.
Zoom Spots will bring disparate work groups together. Zoom Mail and Calendar will keep some people in the Zoom app longer. Intelligent Director will automatically choose the best available camera angles. Merging in-meeting and Team chat into a single place will keep the conversations flowing. Etc.
Zooming out from Zoomtopia, we continue to wonder which of Zoom’s “additional” revenue streams (Zoom Phone, Zoom Contact Center, Zoom Virtual Agent, Zoom Events and Webinars, Zoom IQ for Sales, etc.) will drive the next level of growth for the company.
We thank the Zoom Team, and especially the Zoom AR folks, for their hospitality and for putting on an excellent event.