Mac users are being neglected by web conferencing vendors

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.

You expect crystal clear audio conferencing over the phone? Get real – and get a USB headset.

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.