Featured Article from Conferencing

Microsoft's New Device: A Quantum Leap in Conferencing?

January 31, 2017

While it might seem like Amazon's Echo device is currently top of the heap when it comes to home automation, a patent unearthed recently from Microsoft reveals that it may have an Echo-killer on its hands. Better yet, for those who follow the conferencing market, it's likely to have some excellent applications there too.

The home automation market has been heating up in recent years, with a new report from Reuters suggesting that the battle for home automation will fire up in earnest soon between Amazon and Apple. Yet the Reuters report doesn't take much notice of Microsoft's entry, nor of a similar model from Harman Kardon for release later in 2017, to be powered by the Cortana system.

Based on the patent application noted, the Microsoft device might be a significant leap forward in not only home automation but also in conferencing. Perhaps the biggest such feature is the portable projection unit contained in the system; it features not only a rotating capture module, but also a rotating projection module, allowing the system to function as its own screen, displaying the image of the person at the other end of the conference by showing the image against a screen or a flat white wall.

Using a combination of at least one color camera, microphone and depth camera, the end result is the capture of images in the projection unit's environment, as well as the display of images captured on the other end, and not necessarily by a Microsoft unit on the other side. With a pico projector in place, the system thus becomes both input and output device simultaneously, lowering the barriers to entry for video conferencing substantially.

It's not that the barriers weren't already pretty low as they stood; conferencing doesn't exactly require the room-filling systems it once did. A PC and a webcam, backed up by a system like Skype, can go a long way. In fact, some conferencing systems are even going mobile, using a simple smartphone as the infrastructure to generate conferencing on the road. Yet something like this would be the new, ultra-simple conferencing point that may well bring in the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market in like no tomorrow; one simple unit about the size of a particularly large hand that means conferencing just about anywhere is too great a proposition to pass up.

Something like that could indeed beat Echo and the rest of the market, assuming it gets out soon enough to beat the entrenchment phase. Overcoming inertia is no simple task, not even for a potent, high-end tool like that Microsoft is poised to offer.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi