The only thing Logitech's Revue and Cisco's UMI have in common is that they both do HD video conferencing and use the same Google service and so can talk to each other.
Recall that the Apple TV is $99 and in a market that is a bit tight these are relatively expensive offerings.
Yes, the Revue is cheaper, does a lot more than just video but Oprah is backing the UMI so let's look at the home Video Conferencing side of this and see which solution will be more successful.
Video Conferencing a Primer
I’ve been interested in video conferencing since 1965 when I first used a system at Disneyland in California; at that time conventional wisdom was we were all going to have video phones by the mid-70s.
In the 80s I participated in some of the largest business video conferencing trials under the belief that by the end of the 90s we would all have video phones and we didn’t.
In the late 90s and early 2000s I met with a variety of companies who were bringing video conferencing into the home and they all failed. Most of these firms burned through impressive amounts of cash. Finally, when Andy Grove left Intel he said his biggest mistake was driving a video conferencing solution there. Yep, biggest mistake.
Remember, this is a product class that has been in process for around 50 years and there are three primary reasons video conferencing hasn’t taken off.
First, is that both sides of a conversation need to have the solution and the person on the wrong end of the line gets the most benefit from the best technology. If you buy the best camera the folks who call you get the benefit and you get the most benefit if the folks you are calling buy the more expensive solution.
People have a hard time wrapping their minds around the idea of paying more so the person on the other end of the line gets a better picture and the fact they initially have to buy at least two expensive devices and get them both installed before they can enjoy a call.
Second, in interoperability because even if both sides have a camera chances are they won’t actually talk to each other if the solutions come from different vendors.
The risk of buying into the wrong solution before there is a common standard is high and folks just aren’t all that excited about communications devices that won’t work with similar devices from other vendors.
Indeed, most of the stuff that came out for the home last decade only worked homogeneously and that limitation alone was likely a segment killer. Finally, people just aren’t that used to being on camera and are really nervous about being watched in general.
The funny thing about the biggest trial I participated in, which was done at Apple, was that the desktop cameras were covered up by the employees both because they didn’t want to deal with folks who were calling them and seeing them instantly and were convinced they were being watched by their managers.
Women in particular were concerned about how well their makeup was done particularly if they felt the camera might zoom in on them.
Cisco UMI vs. Logitech Revue for Home Video Conferencing
Issue one is addressed because initially the systems are identical within the two lines and the products but as these lines get built out and either premium or value products enter it will likely come back to haunt us. The only lasting solution will simply be to get buyers comfortable with paying more so their audience gets the better view.
In a world of social networking this may self-correct over time because, with social networking everyone seems to be subtly getting used to the idea of broadcast quality. On issue two both of these systems will talk to each other but likely will not talk to camera based solutions tied to either the Xbox or the PS3.
Basing this on Google is likely better than using their own technology but Google’s history of interoperability isn’t exactly stellar and they are kind of iffy about updates suggesting that future versions of Google’s technology may not be fully interoperable.
Recall the surprise that Android licensees building tablets got when Google launched the ChromeOS. It wasn’t a happy surprise.
Issue three is likely generational; however the Cisco UMI solution physically blocks the camera when it isn’t in use. That will likely make folks vastly more comfortable with it if they are concerned with people secretly watching them.
In addition, the UMI only provides pan, zoom, and tilt control to the broadcasting side unlike business solutions which give the receiving side control. This sacrifices the quality of the experience for an increased perception of privacy and broadcasting control. It will be interesting to see the positive side overcomes the negative side of this decision.
Still, I expect the younger the buyer the less concerned they will be with this as younger buyers have grown up with USB cameras and many are already much more comfortable with the idea of video cameras in the home.
I am still seeing the issue with needing to be ready for the call; however in adult and young adult women suggesting all of this may never go away.
Wrapping Up: Leading with Video Conferencing May be a Mistake But Oprah Could Make the Difference
While the Cisco UMI is by far the better video conferencing solution the barriers to adoption suggest that it would be better to sneak up on the market with a device that did something else compelling first and had an inexpensive upgrade to conferencing.
In addition the consumer market, outside of cable services, has largely rejected solutions with monthly charges which would have me favoring the Logitech approach.
Ironically, if I’m right, given that Intel is at the heart of this offering, it would mean that, if Logitech is successful, Intel finally got a successful video conferencing product and they did it the good old fashioned Intel way by not building the entire thing themselves.
Just as ironic is that the Cisco UMI is the solution I’d be most likely to use because I do a lot of TV work and the camera is worth the extra cost to me if I can feed the video into one of the news services.
And, don’t forget that Oprah is backing this one and you get the right celebrity backing and interesting things happen.
I expect we will see a number of changes in both offerings before either is truly successful, but I do think that finally we are on a track to get home video conferencing to go mainstream; it just may take another decade.
I have a lot of practice waiting.