Unlike flying cars and hoverboards, the “picture phone” is one of those futuristic gadgets from long-ago science fiction that actually arrived. Today, video conferencing (in a business context) or video chatting (as in FaceTime via an Apple iPhone) provides far more features than ever imagined when the Jetsons were using them. (The Jetsons’ flying cars are still way more impressive than ours, however.)
Even more amazing than their arrival and features is that today we’re able to video conference by piggybacking on other technology — without having to spend much more than we already pay for hardware and internet access. Indeed, many of the basic things we use for business-related video conferencing are practically free.
Skype, the early mover with what most users perceived as “free audio calls,” is so well-known worldwide that its brand has become something of the brand-as-generic category name (like Kleenex). “Skype me” is sometimes used for suggesting someone initiate a video chat. Skype, now owned by Microsoft, is still free, but it is constantly rolling out features and services as part of a small business and enterprise grade service for audio, video and instant messaging in a business context.
While Skype may be the best-known brand and largest network in the category, there are literally dozens of Skype competitors, some from the best-known technology brands with the deepest of pockets.
Here are just a few of the Skype alternatives now on the market. Most have a “freemium” model with an array of entry-level limited features that may be enough for most small businesses. Products like Cisco’s WebEx are quickly becoming so loaded with features that soon we’ll be clamoring for 3-D or hologram conferencing. All of these services offer various levels of free voice and video calls, but be sure to check for services you need, such as screen sharing if you make presentations via conference calls.
Google Hangouts: While Google+ and its videoconference feature, Hangouts, are not officially a part of Google’s premium service, Google Apps for Business, they are bundled with the service and are fully integrated. Hangouts is a rapidly growing feature that ties in with other Google products like YouTube and Google Drive. And you can’t beat the price: free. Watch for Hangouts to offer premium services associated with business-usage services.
oovoo: oovoo offers a deep set of features for its free (advertising-supported) video conferencing service. For $30 per year, the oovoo’s “pro” model removes the ads and provides 1,000 minutes of conference calls to be recorded
Citrix Go to Meeting: As your needs for more specialized services increase, platforms like Go to Meeting offer a wide array of features. Go to Meeting is part of a large suite of conferencing products focused on unique types of conferencing needs: presenting, collaborative project, classroom training, etc.
Cisco WebEx: A head-to-head competitor of Go to Meeting, WebEx now is compatible with Cisco’s ultra high-end Telepresence conferencing technology (the video conferencing system Cisco paid to have featured during the final season of the popular TV drama “24”). While the multi-screen hardware and technology found in Telepresence systems are primarily located in corporate executive suites and on Hollywood movie sets, now those systems can pull in participants standing on a sidewalk using a smartphone.
Adobe Connect:Adobe Connect for Web Meetings is another premium product that is part of Adobe’s efforts to tie together an array of online services related to digital marketing, design, production, media placement and the tracking process. The platform works on most popular operating systems and devices, and, according to its fans, provides a near broadcast-like quality feel.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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