Did Google Miss the Mark with their Chromebox Room System?

Google recently announced their Google Chromebox, an entry level room system starting below $1,000.  It is well packaged with a small codec, camera and mic/speaker. Google wasn’t the first to announce a product like this. Logitec announced one a few weeks prior.  Cisco announced their entry level room system just last week and they probably won’t be the last to do so.

When Cisco announced their version, the SX10, they stated that only 7% of rooms were video capable, implying there is a big market for these entry level room system solutions.  Video will be a ubiquitous communications tool in the future.  It already is for some organizations, ours being one, and once you have experienced it on a daily basis as your primary form of communications, there is no going back.

Do Google and other small room systems providers, think these entry level room systems will become ubiquitous?

These vendors are turning small meeting rooms into a $1K turnkey solution, without the screen, which really means that the cost is approximately $2,000.  The biggest advantages of deploying these systems are:

A.  They will make video instantly available in these meeting rooms without relying on any technology needing to be set up to enable a video call.

B.  They will provide a richer audio and video experience than simply using a PC to make a call in the room.

C.  They will provide customers and Solution providers another way to be creative with how video is enabled.

Think about these 4 Things before deploying these Entry Level Room Systems

Room systems are a critical part of any Corporate Collaborative Ecosystem.  But, before you start putting these entry level systems in all your rooms you should consider these factors:

1)   Most meetings are still “In-Room” only meetings, meaning no one is connected from outside the room.  I don’t have a hard stat on this, but have heard numbers of approximately 80%.  The 93% of rooms without video deployed also speaks to a high number of meetings being “in-room” only.  So technology that supports “In-room” only meetings, like presentation sharing technology and interactive whiteboard technology, are pretty important.

Presentation sharing technology has really evolved in the last 18 months and there are many options out there with possibilities of supporting all the BYOD devices your users might be bringing to meetings.  A run down of these technologies is probably in order in the next little while – stay tuned.

Interactive whiteboard technology can transform how your brainstorming or collaborative in-room meetings are run.  Check out this previous blog on how this technology can accelerate your meetings.


2)   Of the four conferencing technologies that are available to integrate into a room, audio is the most critical.  Without audio – and I want to put a special emphasis on good audio – you can’t conduct a good conference.  Audio should not be taken for granted or be an afterthought.

This situation was underscored in a recent customer engagement where the customer was standardizing on Adobe Connect as their primary UC&C platform.  Adobe Connect is a good product, but it could not deliver good audio on systems that were primarily PC based products in the rooms.  We worked with the customer to upgrade the sound quality in their rooms with commercial grade sound products and users were literally rejoicing at the resolution to their sound quality problems.  The poor audio quality was a very big issue for the user community.  Poor audio quality can undermine the best laid UC&C plans.

3)   What you decide to put into those rooms for video conferencing depends a lot on what your UC&C platform strategy is.

If your organization has standardized on a UC&C platform like Microsoft Lync and is just getting into room systems to support UC&C, then it makes sense to use Lync based entry level room systems.  These could be systems that essentially extend a Lync client running on a PC that users just plug their PC into, or fully dedicated Lync room systems that are ready to use when people enter the room.

If you have already made an investment in a traditional standards based video room system, like Cisco’s, it makes sense to stay the course whether you are using Cisco’s CUCM or VCS architecture or are integrating these systems with Lync on personal devices.  Cisco also has a very good UC&C platform with Jabber, and probably has the strongest breadth of room system solutions, which seamlessly integrates with their UC&C platform.  Their announcements last week were a very strong step forward on all fronts.

The real trick on the entry level room systems is to nail your strategy up front, because an entry level dedicated room system is very different than a user’s PC plugged into a room display.  A dedicated system is always in the room to provide the conferencing technologies to any user who is in the room.  An extension of a PC can be very workable, but is subject to the power of the user’s PC and any other programs that are using it’s resources at the time of the conference.  Also of note – not all entry level rooms systems are equal.  Some due diligence needs to be done in this regard as well.

4)   Virtual meeting rooms (VMRs) are in many cases a better way for a small number of people to meet.  If your corporate culture starts to adopt this method for meeting and collaborating, then you don’t need all of the 93% of your rooms that are not video enabled to be fitted with a permanent codec.

In effect, you are bypassing the need for small room systems.  People who start using virtual rooms often prefer to meet this way instead of meeting in a small room.  Why?  Because:

  • They want to stay at their desk (even when they are meeting with people who are just a few desks over).
  • It is easier to see and share content in a VMR.
  • They have their own personal set up – 2nd screen, audio set up, or a plugged in headset that will provide a better audio experience with no echo/feedback.
  • They have more flexibility as to where they can join the call from.
  • If they are working from their desk they have access to all their files should they need them for the meeting.

There are other benefits to the company if meeting in VMRs becomes the norm:

So how big is the market for the Entry Level room systems?

Only time will tell, but with at least 4 different ways to enable video in small meeting rooms:

  1. A dedicated entry level room system
  2. A PC in the room extended via USB connection to higher quality video and audio devices (various levels of quality)
  3. A PC on its own – crowding around it
  4. A Virtual Room

… the entry level video room systems won’t fully penetrate the 93% of un-enabled rooms.

What about Google’s Chromebox?

Google doesn’t have a big footprint in Enterprise accounts, but they do have over 5 million businesses that are using their platform to run the office part of their businesses.  I am sure they will sell the Chromebox to some of those 5 million customers, but I would think that their customer base would be more likely to adopt the virtual meeting room option, rather than invest in an entry level room system.  Many smaller businesses tend to have one main boardroom for their meetings and a Chromebox is not really suited for this type of meeting room.

Cisco’s entry level room system on the other hand makes a lot of sense for their position in the market.   The SX10 complements and rounds out an already very strong line of video room systems and has all the interoperability that Cisco already enjoys in the marketplace.

Inter-operatibility is a big concern for Google’s Chromebox.  The Chromebox is proprietary, in that it needs Google Hangouts to work with.  Lots of people already use and prefer Skype.  They can’t connect.

People without Chrome hardware can join meetings from other locations as long as they have a Gmail account.  Not very practical.

But Google and Cisco just announced that they will be working together to connect their collaboration technology – that is interesting.  We’ll see what that really means, but it could be a very powerful partnership.

If you have some thoughts on this topic, please share them below.

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