What Cisco’s ūmi Needs to Blow Away Facebook

6 Oct

Hate to say it, but ūmi, the interactive video Telepresence hardware and service targeting consumers from Cisco is a dud. At least, it is in its current incarnation. Needless to say, Cisco thinks differently and believes that there’s a home market for its product. According to the company:

With Cisco ūmi telepresence you can place and receive video calls from any computer with a webcam, and Google video chat. It’s another great way to share your family with friends, see your son at college, or keep in touch with Mom when she’s away on business.”

Despite the engaging photos on the company’s website of people doing just that, there aren’t many families I’ve ever met who feel a constant urge to see mom while she’s traveling on business. Few of us want to add video to a communication process that works great as audio-only. After all, who wants to get dressed up for a phone call, even if just for the kids? Certainly not mom at the end of a day of meetings.

What Telepresence desperately needs is an API and a browser. Yes, that boring application programming interface and an everyday browser. The API will attract developers and a browser will captivate users.

With an API, software companies can build applications that will do, well, whatever consumers want to do with interactive video, which is not, I repeat, to see grandma in her capri pants and tennis shoes, when talking with her on the phone would be just fine. But what people will want to do with ūmi is what they do with Facebook and other social media: play games, communicate with comrades, display photos, show movies, and present links to the ever-expanding online world. They want to publish their lives to followers, friends, and, even family.

So far, ūmi, AppleTV, Roku and other systems are missing the boat about how to merge the TV and Internet experience. What they need to offer is a way for consumers to create their own content, just as today they can do for social networks.

People need to have a browser to work with content. But when I say browser, I’m not necessarily thinking about Safari or Chrome, though I’m open to the notion. I’m thinking about an application on an iPad, a TV remote or something else in my living room that lets me grab segments of an ABC sitcom or an ESPN sporting event and weave them into a post that also includes a home video of my cat, a YouTube link, a Ping tune, and maybe a profound, profane or prosaic voiceover from me. Or something. Anything other than just staring at the screen and talking.

In my view, people have absolutely zero interest in watching people watch them have a telephone conversation. Most of us would rather watch grass grow. We want to interact in ways that show others how creative we can be by splicing together snippets of our day or syncing slices of our lives through a gamut of sources available to us online and on TV. We want to leverage what we’ve learned using PCs, smartphones, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other technologies and services. ūmi and its competitors are not that.

So, if ūmi (or Apple TV, Roku) is going to succeed it will need more than just the ability to send video streams back and forth. It will need to build and support robust APIs that are adhered to by content developers in Hollywood as well as in Silicon Valley. It will need a way to control the hardware that may or may not include a PC keyboard, but is dead simple, yet flexible. (Hence, my initial choice of the iPad. But it could just as well be an Android device or a new kind of TV remote.) ūmi needs an ecosystem.

Right now Cisco has a box with a cool name that does something few people want. With an API and a new-fangled browser, it will have something consumers crave. And something Facebook will fear.




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