With hardware for the home, Zoom bets on long-term remote work

The pandemic has made Zoomers of all of us, from children to CEOs. Zoom, along with other video conferencing services, has become new type of public utility. It’s tough to live without these communication tools and be a functioning member of modern society.

Zoom has found itself in the middle of a type of windfall as it has become a go-to platform for video communications. But the company says many of its users are still struggling to set up and conduct meetings effectively. It does take a certain degree of experience along with a touch of luck to get a flawless conference call going.

A couple of weeks ago, the company introduced a category of hardware and software that it calls Zoom for Home. These are optimized for and dedicated to the Zoom service, promising to make it smoother for people to use the platform. The hardware is being made by DTEN, a company that typically produces products for conference rooms.

As remote work has become the norm, video meetings have been the standout technology solution during the Covid-19 pandemic. They’ve been the primary way for people to connect with colleagues, friends, family, teachers, students and customers. Adoption of tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams has skyrocketed, initially as a stopgap measure until the spread of the virus slowed. But now a realization is sinking in that the pandemic has simply greatly accelerated a shift toward working remotely.

Zoom for Home essentially consists of a 27-inch screen tablet, equipped with three wide-angle cameras designed for high-resolution video and eight microphones for audio. Zoom software comes preloaded on the device as the interface is designed to offer easy access to popular Zoom features. To be clear, this product isn’t the same as Zoom Rooms, which is a separate subscription-based device made just for office conference rooms. The Zoom for Home device costs $599 and works with an existing Zoom licence. The company is taking pre-orders and the device is expected to ship in August 2020.

According to Zoom, the device is designed with simplicity in mind, so that it’s easy to get it up and running. Users can launch the interface by entering a pairing code from a website on a laptop or a mobile phone. Once the interface appears, a simple touch automatically activates a function, such as making a phone call or starting a meeting.

It’s also possible to link to a calendar so that all meetings appear in a sidebar, and users can connect to the next meeting by touching the meeting. Zoom for Home also allows screen-sharing, through ultrasonic pairing between the appliance and laptop or mobile phone. It’s interesting that this works by sending out a sound between 18 KHz and 22 KHz — frequencies that most people can’t hear — instead of sending out a radio signal as with Bluetooth technology.

By introducing its Zoom for Home device, Zoom is trying to separate itself from the pack as organizations rethink their strategy about how they can support and enable remote work more effectively in the long run. The company is looking at the long-term use of its service as remote work shifts to a more enduring set-up, and particularly as organizations embark on the prospect of a hybrid model that combines regular home working with office-based working.

It’s unlikely that the device has been created purely in response to Covid-19 and the growth in home working, but rather repositioned to address this new reality. Like Cisco with its Webex Desk Pro display, Zoom will be hoping that this hardware makes its service “stickier” as companies that invest in its device are more likely to continue using the platform. But it remains to be seen if businesses are ready to make such an investment for a conferencing-only device on a large scale, especially in the face of an uncertain economic climate.