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Video Conferencing – Does it make sense to be on a Tablet?

Thanks TechToon

I remembered Apple’s announcement of the iPad. My first reaction was, what a terrible name. My second reaction was what the hell is wrong with that bezel and my third reaction was where the heck is the camera?

The idea of using the iPhone OS as the platform for the iPad was genius and thoughts of Qik, Ustream, Knocking Live Video were dancing in my head only to have them crushed by the lack of hardware.  But then something hit me during my daily video conference I do at work, doing this on the iPad would suck and here’s why.

There are two ways we use video for communication, point-to-point like AIM/iChat/Gchat or multi-point like GoToMeeting/WebEx/Elluminate/.  Let’s take a look at point-to-point and how it would work, or not, on a tablet.  You are at Starbucks and kicking back enjoying your latest edition of the Wall Street Journal e-version as onlookers gawk at your shinny slate quietly murmuring to themselves the envy and loathing they feel toward you when you receive a ping that someone would like a chat with you. After a few moments of frantic touch typing, you realize it would be better to just video chat the session to save your fingers from smugging the screen even further.  You send the request out and just like that, you see your colleague pop up on your tablet.  The person on the other side will most likely get an unflattering view of your nose hairs and chin as you try to position your face correctly for the session.  Holding the tablet up at face level makes no sense and you end up looking like a idiot with your surroundings and placing it on your lap causing severe neck strain as you are forced to keep your head in a downward angle for appropriate view by your other party.  Sure you can prop your slate on a table and then all is well but another problem arise, what about back channel conversation or any interaction for that matter other than your eyebrows going up and down to express your feelings about the subject matter? Oh wait, I got my bluetooth keyboard here!  That saves me!  Umm….dude what you got now is a two piece netbook, not a single, elegant, simple device.  If that was the case then why not bring your laptop instead?

Which leads me to my second scenario, multi-point video conversation.  You are at an airport and your company’s weekly online meeting is in ten minutes and it is on WebEx.  Hey there’s an app for that!  It is not as full featured as the desktop version but for the sake of this example, let’s pretend it is.  Just like before, you position the tablet in prep for others to view your mug.  As everyone appears like a Hollywood Squares game show, people begin to chat and share how their day is going so far.  You pull out your bluetooth keyboard and off you go…but then you need to draw something on the shared whiteboard. You put your finger on your tablet and start to draw while others watch this massive finger or arm fly into view as you provide your portion of the presentation, how sexy!

My point is this, the way we interact on video is a two part system.  The video and input hardware are separate. Sure grandma will be happy to see the grandkids and a short video chat on a tablet actually makes sense, but if you think about how people work with video, this design may not work as effectively as we envision it would.  I still want a camera on my tablet and know that it will happen, but for video conferencing, I rather use a smartphone as the video portal and my tablet for data capture.  This two-part system makes the most sense to me.

With the HTC EVO 4G and the iPhone 4G claiming to do video conferencing, the iPad makes a lot of sense as the digital notebook for capturing notes and sharing data.  This my friends will be the perfect melding of mobile tech for the mobile warrior.

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