All of the visual communication vendors are scrambling to identify their offering for what is being called “Video as a Service”. I think the perception is that a service based visual communication offering will be the Holy Grail and lead the public to widely adopt visual communication. I have spoken to many industry leaders and one of the real challenges is getting over the legacy that has dogged the industry for the last 20 years.
When I speak to people about visual communication they think of talking heads on traditional video conferencing equipment. When I ask them what has to change for video to be more widely adopted, they tell me things like “It should run over the internet” or “It should have good eye contact”. When I explain that these things have been accomplished they are surprised. The conversation then tends to turn technical for a while and ends with setting a date for a demo.
This is all well and good but winning over the market one person at a time is not what the industry needs. The book “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore has some good approaches to new technology, encouraging companies to focus on and win vertical markets. The players in the industry need to understand the customer’s problems and focus on understanding workflows. Customers will spend money to solve problems and are always on the lookout for an edge over their competition.
In the book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, Clayton M. Christensen takes a look at the hard disk industry to illustrate how it is difficult for incumbents to focus on innovation when they are struggling with the challenges of meeting sales targets and keeping existing customers happy. Nick Kershaw wrote “Look behind you, there’s the man you’re chasing”. That about sums up what Christensen has to say and it definitely applies to the visual communication industry.
Right now it is companies like Magor and Vidyo with their software approach to visual communication that are “The man behind you”. That won’t last long though as technologies like Skype continue to improve. This market sector will be rife with innovation and the company that understands the customers needs and intelligently applies both technology and human engineering will be the leader.
The general public has rewarded Apple because they make products that address a need in a way that people like. People want to buy their products because they solve a problem and they’re fun. That begs the question “How do you make visual communication fun?”
I was recently at a house party and one of the guests that were there worked for a company that believes the future of visual communication is through the use of avatars. The individual claimed that the next generation of communicators has grown up with video games. They like to communicate openly via social networking and rely on virtual personas to control how much information they reveal about themselves. He said the system was fun to use and that that would be a hard requirement in the not too distant future. I guess I’m a hard sell because I can’t see myself as a cartoon.
A first step might be a visual communication system that allowed users to select between avatar and live video. The avatars would mimic facial expression and lip movement, the unspoken part of communication. If you add video eyes then you would have the “window to the soul”.
It sounds like a stupid idea on the surface, but that’s the kind of thinking that needs to happen to take an Apple centric approach.