There has been a large hype about web conferencing solutions for mobile devices for the last couple of months. And rightfully so. The mobile market – with the iPhone and iPad as forerunners – is growing at an incredible rate so it is mandatory that vendors of online collaboration tools make their solutions available to this growing customer segment.
Now this segment has been rudimentarily covered by the vendors, and the mobile applications – which we have tested extensively – make it possible for attendees on the run to experience an online meeting with the limitations their mobile devices set. So what is the next trend now? HD-video!
All well and good, but with all these new developments there is one thing that vendors keep disregarding. Of course it is nice to have new and flashy features. However, if you only make these available to one set of users and give the rest of us only basic functionalities, something is amiss.
You might have guessed it: We are speaking of the divide between Windows users and Mac users. What web conferencing vendors tend to disregard is that the online meeting market is different from all other software markets in one fundamental aspect: the rule that you need to make sure to cover the requirements of the vast majority (Windows users) before everything else does not apply. And why not? Simply because even though the Mac OS X user group is still small in comparison you do not know with which device an attendee will log into the meeting.
Even if only one attendee logs into the meeting with his Mac and the solution you are using does not support that, you have a problem. Fortunately, the better ranked tools in our comparison all offer some degree of Mac compatibility, which allows for attendance and collaboration in varying degrees. But even GoToMeeting clearly favors Windows users, and hasn’t developed their solution for Mac OS X further in the last years.
In our tool reviews we point at compatibility of the solutions with common Operating Systems. We will be keeping a close look at this issue and if a tool doesn’t show any promise of improving the service for Mac users, we will consider deducting points from the overall score. And no, that is not too harsh. This is a major factor in user friendliness, since a web conferencing host should not have to worry about whether everyone is able to follow him.
The name says it all: with join.me you can attend meetings on your iPad, that’s it. Which is no real surprise since our comprehensive test of web conferencing apps for mobile devices revealed that currently not more is possible or even sensible for touch devices.
When you attend a join.me online meeting with your iPad you get very clean interface and transfer of the presenters desktop or presentations is smooth. As attendee you have only one option of interacting with others and that is via the chat functionality.
join.me chat functionality on iPad
So basically, join.me fulfills the requirements of a touch device for web conferencing. To view the other vendors’ mobile apps check out our test results here.
Audio is an integral part of web conferencing. There are two ways of providing audio service: either a vendor offers an integrated VoIP solution or they offer POTS (plain old telephone service) aka. landlines.
The quality of VoIP is generally very good and exceeds that of a standard phone conference by far. And integration of VoIP should actually be no biggie for the vendors since they simply need to add the audio to the web conferencing functionality already in place. Yet, mostly phone conferences are used for web conferencing. How is that?
Well, even though with broadband easily accessible to deliver the VoIP, many users of online collaboration tools are missing one integral part of the solution: A decent USB headset or computer mike. And many users also feel it is easier to pick up the phone and dial into a phone conference in parallel to the online meeting. Big vendors clearly have an advantage here since they have the resources to provide an infrastructure of geographically dispersed audio bridges to even enable this functionality.
There is a trend in web conferencing, however, that shows an increase of VoIP usage. The increase is slow, but it is noticeable. Mobile devices play a role here because e.g. on an iPad you need VoIP since users will hardly be sitting next to their office phone when participating with an iPad or smart phone.
What will happen in the near future is the following: while VoIP clearly is the future, vendors will provide both POTS audio service and VoIP. And they will have to, because offering only one will equal a huge loss in revenue simply because too many users will be shut out. To get users to adapt to VoIP quicker, vendors should maybe consider bundled offers of web conferencing services plus the necessary peripherals such as USB headset and webcam.
And yes, if you have a fairly new computer it is likely to have an included mike that delivers a decent sound quality as well as a webcam. But this is not the case for a vast majority of office computers. And until that changes, adaptation to VoIP will remain a slow process.
We were surprised at the range of functionalities TeamViewer offers users on an iPad.
On your iPad you can chat, alter the size of the screen you are viewing, and have full mouse and keyboard control. You can even decide on your own which screen you want to view if the host e.g. has a second, hidden screen. One member of our testing crew wasn’t too happy about that specific feature as it turned out…
This points towards the restrictions of the tool: You only have all these functionalities if you participate in a meeting with a Mac user. And you can only have meetings one-on-one as soon as an iPad user is participating. Also, we could find no way for the host to restrict the iPad user’s access.
TeamViewer advanced keyboard functionality on iPad
So really, it’s more of a remote access to a Mac – comparable with Citrix’ GoToMy PC – than a meeting, since you can do everything from your iPad. You can even shut down the host’s Mac if he doesn’t watch the iPad user every second of the ‘meeting’.
On the iPad, FastViewer falls into the category ‘look, don’t touch’. According to the vendor, a meeting host should be able to transfer mouse and keyboard control to participants using an iPad, but in our tests we were not able to verify this.
FastViewer status bar on iPad
Apart from this FastViewer performs nicely. You can chat – not privately – and can check out the list of attendees any time. We liked the status bar at the bottom of the screen. If somebody sends a chat message during a presentation you can easily switch to the chat window and then back again.
In a nutshell, Saba allows participants of web conferences with an iPad to view another participants’ screens or content that has been uploaded by others. Unfortunately, with your iPad you cannot have a look at the list of participants, which we think would have been a nice feature.
Saba Centra's whiteboard viewed on an iPad
Saba Centra allows you to interact with other participants of an online meeting a little when you are on your iPad. You can chat and at the bottom of the screen you have icons that allow you to show your agreement or dislike of whatever is being presented. If a presentation is really good you can click on the “applause” icon. We are sure the presenter will appreciate it.
We knew that our number-one-ranking tool, Citrix GoToMeeting, was compatible for iPad. Now we tested its actual performance.
It comes as no real surprise that the quality was very good, with no latencies for VoIP and shared screen. Additionally users always have an overview of who is in the meeting with the attendee list displayed to the right.
Overall, a really convincing performance, BUT: only as a participant. iPad users can only watch others present. All the usual goodies like desktop sharing, app sharing, and chat are not available.
You can find all the details on GoToMeeting and iPad on the GoToMeeting website.
A couple of week ago we stated that we weren’t all that convinced of the mix of online meetings and smart phones. Our main objection was the small size of the devices’ displays. Nevertheless, we have to keep an open mind and objectively evaluate the current solutions. So we checked out the compatibility of all the web conferencing solutions on our list with iPhone / iPod touch, Blackberry, and Android.
A lot of vendors have already released smart-phone-friendly versions of their software. Astonishingly, the leaders as far as compatibility is concerned are the solutions below the top 5! Among the top 5 only WebEx and RHUB can be used on an iPhone. RHUB as a browser based solution, WebEx with its own app.
The combination of “runs on iPhone and Blackberry” is most common and currently Intercall Unified Meeting, IBM Lotus Live Meeting, Fuze Meeting, PGi Netspoke, and AT&T Connect are able to deliver.
Next to compatibility of online meeting solutions with smart phones we checked the compatibility with Apple’s iPad. Taken together, 30 per cent of our tested solutions offer web conferencing on either smart phone or iPad, which is ok for starters. Developers are working on the issue around the clock and we will keep you updated on the latest news.
We will now take our iPad and scrutinize the performance of single solutions. Oh, and naturally we inserted the info on which tool is compatible with which device into our overall ranking.