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Polycom's New Products Shake Up Workplace Collaboration

October 29, 2015 | Telepresence Options


Story and images by David Maldow

I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation for an advanced briefing on Polycom's big announcement celebrating their 25th anniversary with a few brand new solutions. I started the day by chatting with Polycom EVP of WW Engineering, Michael Frendo, who was immediately speaking my language. He assured me that while the team was very proud of the specs and feature sets of the products I was about to see, the focus was going to be on actual user applications and workflow. In today's collaboration market, this is the clearest path to success. Customers today are a lot less impressed by "cool toys" and a lot more concerned about hosting productive working sessions with remote-based teams.

While there were a number of new solutions I saw yesterday, the highlights were three new products in particular, each culminating from years of internal development. These are the Polycom RealPresence Trio, Debut, and Centro. The Polycom team is extremely proud of these products, with good reason. The products themselves are an interesting mixture of building upon existing successful Polycom lines as well as some completely new and unexpected features and dynamics. All of them are designed to address what Polycom is calling "The Workplace of The Future".

After a brief intro by CEO Peter Leav (shown above) and EVP/CMO Jim Kruger, and a hat tip to legendary co-founder Jeffrey Rodman, the new products were shared by Michael Frendo and Ashan Willy (SVP WW Systems Engineering & Product Management). Let's take a look at the new products in turn.


The Polycom RealPresence Trio
It is generally an unwise move in this industry to try and pick winners, but the Polycom Trio is such a no-brainer that I feel comfortable predicting that it will be a success. It takes a known winning formula and adds highly sought after functionality, while keeping it all user friendly.

The Polycom "starfish" conference phone has been one of the most ubiquitous and popular appliances in the history of business meeting room collaboration. When remote collaboration was all about audio, it completely took care of our of meeting room communication needs.

Today however, we expect a lot more than audio communication in a team workspace. Generally, the answer has been to supplement the Polycom conference phone with additional tools to handle video and content share. Multiple tools with multiple interfaces for users to learn adds complexity and confusion to any environment. It would greatly simplify things if the hub of the room, the conference phone itself, could completely support and control all meeting and collaboration elements. That is the goal and purpose of the Polycom RealPresence Trio. While having one appliance handle voice, content, and video may not be an original concept; using one of the most popular conference phones on the planet as the platform is certainly compelling.

An "Apple-esq" touch user interface makes it easy to start a meeting (audio or video), particularly if you leverage the calendar integration for "one-touch" meeting startup. The device is paired wirelessly to a small component connected to your meeting room monitor and video camera (the demo used a typical Logitech webcam). This allows local users to wirelessly share content from their personal devices, as well as supporting video calls over your choice of video platform, whether it be cloud or hardware-based. As expected with any Polycom solution, the integration with RealPresence, Skype for Business, and Broadsoft is particularly tight.

After participating in a few demo calls, I quickly saw the advantages from a workflow perspective. One, easy to use, touch interface to control everything is clearly superior to multiple confusing remote controls. Having everything accessible from the speakerphone in the center of the table is clearly preferable to expecting users to leave the table and walk over to an appliance on a wall or shelf in order to share content or collaborate.

Finally, despite the fact that no one complains about Polycom's audio quality, they found a way to notably improve it with this device. The Trio has bass! One limiting factor of speakerphones is the lack of bass, as subwoofers traditionally required a bigger box than we would want to have on our meeting room tables. With today's audio technology, we can produce big bass from a small package. The result is that remote participants no longer have that "tinny" or distant sound. They sound a lot more like they are in the room.

Bottom line, I don't think it would be presumptuous of Polycom to plan on manufacturing a lot of these, as I expect they will be received very well by their customer base.


The Polycom RealPresence Debut
This is the kind of design I want to see from the next generation of videoconferencing endpoints. It's sleek and compact, and most importantly, it doesn't look like a traditional videoconferencing camera. We all know that people act differently when they are on camera (at least until videoconferencing becomes a normal part of their daily communications). Therefore, cameras that don't look like they are pointing and staring at you make it easier for video newbies to adapt and adjust to acting naturally over video

But don't let its slim appearance and ease of use (plug-and-play setup, no IT support required) fool you. This is a full featured, enterprise grade, video system. The internal PTZ camera is 1080p, and it has Polycom's leading audio functionality, including their "NoiseBlock" technology, which impressively eliminates common audio distractions such as keyboard tapping and paper rustling.

Although I do not have pricing as we go to press with this story, my understanding is that this is being geared towards the huddle room, not the boardroom, and I expect it will be priced accordingly.

If the only announcement today was the Debut, I would have been very pleased, as it is exactly what I want from a Polycom video endpoint in 2015. It is somewhat unfortunate that the particular benefits and value of this product may get a bit lost in shuffle today among the excitement I expect to surround the complete "newness" of the Trio workspace dynamic, and the buzz and controversy I expect over our next product.

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