App-less Shrugged

Given today’s environment and my role with a workplace technology company, I have been exploring a LOT of different collaboration tools as of late.

Collaboration devices have officially gone well beyond wireless screen-sharing at this point. In fact, with Zoom, Teams, etc. offering screen-share as part of their software platforms over the Wi-Fi connection, I’d wager the survival of collaboration necessitates those extra features.

Currently, collaboration devices offer a variety of additional features. Those features include wireless screen-sharing, wireless USB connection of room peripherals back to the devices in the room, the ability to do virtual rooms, the option to connect multiple displays together in extended desktops or in broadcast style modes, Outlook/calendar integration, the ability to act as a host to cross-platform soft-conferencing applications, far-end sharing of collaboration canvases and tools, far-end screen share and a single sign-on meeting credential to launch calendared events.

Now of course, not all of these features are available on all of the devices out there, and you’ll likely need to explore each one and decide which device is appropriate based on the use case and the pros and cons.

However, there is one commonality between this new generation of devices and that is they all have their own apps.

appless shrugged

I ran a poll on Twitter a few weeks back and asked if requiring an app created too much friction, or if it made a product a non-starter. Now the question was phrased in an “either/or” way that also yielded some gray space for comments.  The result was that 56% said apps create too much friction while 44% said they were acceptable to access more features.

The major comment was that as long as screen-sharing could be accessed without an app, (via Airplay, Miracast, Chromecast, browser) that apps were a generally acceptable way to access additional features beyond getting info up on the screen.

In talking to most of the companies that make these devices, their reason for creating the app-based environments was to improve consistency of experience, manage security, manage network configuration issues and limitations and provide a consistent customer experience — all goals that I take no issue with.

I’m a big proponent of leveraging a user’s existing behaviors and knowledge to reduce friction. To me, an app represents an investment on the part of the user to learn something new, and as such, I’ve always avoided systems that REQUIRE apps as a starting point.

I may be softening somewhat. I still believe devices need to leverage cross-platform casting for screen-sharing without an app. I also believe that guest access to the app, (if needed or desired), should be available in a way that doesn’t require admin rights to launch or security exceptions to enable. Employees should have the apps needed pre-installed and updated regularly by their company if they are to be fully adopted.

The goals of simplicity and flexibility are very often at odds in our world. Apps may help with that long-term, but if we are entering the app phase of AV, we will need to invest in better app design and UIs to reduce the added friction of requiring them.

The one-button meeting is still a unicorn in AV, but one worth searching for. App-based collaboration systems may get us one step closer to that ideal. It will be interesting to see how companies traditionally invested in hardware turn the corner on consumer grade UI. The field is open for a winner to emerge, and the victor will be the one who understands the enterprise, the network and the users equally.