Cisco’s Coolest Product Ever: Spark Board
Author: Mark Haranas
Cisco Systems is making technology in the workplace cool again with the new Spark Board.
“It used to be as an employee, you’d go to work and get all the cool tools. For the last 10 years, that hasn’t happened — the cool toys are at home. This is now bringing back the cool toys to the workplace,” said Rob Bellmar, executive vice president of business operations at West Unified Communications Services, a Chicago-based Cisco partner.
The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant’s Spark Board launch Tuesday is turning heads in the unified communications and collaboration industry by packing microphones, ultra-high-definition cameras, voice-tracking technology and an advanced interactive whiteboard into a single offering.
“This will revolutionise the way people do meetings,” said Jens Meggers, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Cloud Collaboration Technology Group. “It’s the world’s most advanced presentation device … Two years ago, you couldn’t make this.”
Advanced Interactive Whiteboard
Although an interactive whiteboard isn’t new technology, Cisco’s Spark Board is taking it to the next level. Spark Board allows anyone with the Cisco Spark app to draw on or mark in real time on the whiteboard simultaneously, even from a remote mobile phone. Participants can draw on a black canvas or any document and team members can edit at the same time. In addition, content is saved instantly and automatically so that the whole team can share.
“Teams can create drawings and can co-create in the same room or remotely at the same time – that’s real collaboration,” said Cisco’s Meggers.
No Network, Bluetooth Needed
The Spark Board automatically connects to any laptop, PC, Mac or mobile device with no Wi-Fi, network connection or Bluetooth needed. Cisco is able to achieve this through “groundbreaking new ultrasound wireless pairing” technology along with a tight integration with the Cisco Spark platform, according to Meggers.
“We are using highly advanced ultrasound technology to automatically detect the device and we’re able to present from any laptop or PC or Mac with no Bluetooth and no Wi-Fi requirements,” he said.
No longer do organisations need to have microphones installed around a conference room separated from the voice or video hardware. Cisco has installed “an incredible microphone array” around the framework of the screen, said Meggers.
“There’s zero microphones required in the room,” he said, adding that the microphones also adjust to people’s volume and position in the room.
In addition to the microphones, Cisco has installed voice-tracking technology with the ability to focus on the speaker in any given room – big or small.
“These microphones do all your beam-forming with anyone in the room. It will zoom in on whomever is speaking, even in large rooms,” said Meggers.
Spark Board Application Suite
Cisco has created a new application suite for Spark tied directly to the Spark Board, dubbed Cisco Spark Meetings, allowing users to interact with the offering from a mobile device.
“It’s almost like the Spark Board in your pocket,” said Meggers. “It works perfectly with Spark Board.”
By adding some of the popular meeting capabilities from Cisco’s WebEx platform, Cisco Spark Meetings extends the meeting to include the time before and after. Users can schedule a meeting in the app and automatically get what they need to prepare for the meeting, according to Cisco. It creates a team space so users can create the agenda, get all the right people involved, share content and chat back and forth, the company said.
No Remote Control
“There are no controls on this device,” said Meggers.
With a focus around simplicity, Cisco decided to forgo a remote controller and instead allow users to leverage Spark Board’s touch-screen capability and drawing pen to navigate.
On the 55-inch screen, with a 70-inch screen coming out later this year, is a 4K ultra-high-definition camera. Meggers said the 4K UHD camera gives a broad, crisp view of the room without being obtrusive.
Channel partners can leverage Spark’s APIs to create customised solutions for organisations.
“This platform is highly extensible. That opens up a world of opportunity to develop applications leveraging the APIs we expose to create differentiation and real sticky value with [partners’] customers,” said Gary Wolfson, head of Cisco’s Global Collaboration Partner Organisation. “Creating more and new value is critical.”
Any Board Will Do
Cisco said a person can walk up to any Spark Board in the world, even if it’s not owned by them or their company, and with one click start sharing.
The networking giant said this is “unprecedented” in how Cisco is creating a global network of workspaces that users can access from anywhere.
Cisco Spark was initially launched in 2014 as a messaging app before being revamped in 2015 as an end-to-end collaboration solution. Spark Board’s messaging capabilities allow users to chat before, during and after meetings, as well as access follow-up action items or notes from the meeting all in the same space.
With the theme of simplicity around the Spark Board, Cisco built the offering to be set up as simply possible by just mounting it to a wall and plugging it in.
“We’ve designed it to be incredibly simple — one touch starts the meeting,” said Meggers.
$4,990 Price Point
A major highlight of the Spark Board is its price tag of $4,990 along with a $199 per-month subscription fee for services.
“We’re lowering the bar of entry because in the past we were like, ‘Oh this device is $15,000 or $25,000″ and that made it way too difficult for companies to get into this,” said Meggers. “We want to get this into as many rooms and customers as possible. Eighty-five percent of meetings rooms are not technology-enabled yet, they’re just used for regular meetings. We know this Spark Board is going to be breakthrough. So we’re coming out with very aggressive pricing.”