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In the second of a two-part podcast on UC clients, the UCStrategies experts review individual UC clients from top unified communications vendors. For additional information referenced here, see UC Client Roundup on NoJitter.
The discussion is moderated by Dave Michels, and he is joined by Blair Pleasant, Samantha Kane, Marty Parker, Kevin Kieller, Michael Finneran, Art Rosenberg, and Don Van Doren.
Also on UCStrategies.com on this topic:
Dave Michels: Hi, this is Dave Michels. I am here with the UCStrategies experts. Today we are talking about the UC client. If you missed part 1 of this podcast, (UC Clients - What Matters Most?) we talked abou the role of the UC client and its evolution. I thought at this point we’ll get into some of the individual clients. Of course there are lots and lots of clients and of course lots and lots of experts on the phone, so I don’t want to get into too much detail on this. I thought we’d just hit a couple of interesting aspects of some of these clients. For some of this information you might want to take a look at the NoJitter slide show.
I thought we would start off with the NEC Sphericall client, which is what they call a rich internet architect or RIA solution. Blair, do you have any observations on this one?
Blair Pleasant: When I first saw this client, I was really impressed by the way it looks. It kind of has that TweetDeck sort of appearance. It’s very clean looking. It’s very sharp looking. It looks very modern. It doesn’t look outdated like some of the others that we’re not going to be talking about today. So, it really gives you that, again, that TweetDeck type of experience where it’s easy to look at people’s presence status and see what’s going on. It just looks like a really user friendly, intuitive, nice interface that I would like to use. Some of the others, they have more complexity. It takes a lot more to see the information you want and to do click-to-call and things like this.
I am really impressed with what went into the design of this interface. As far as usability, I haven’t used it very much. I just tried it out at a couple of conferences. But, it really is very nice and usable. And again, a very clean interface – which I really like and respect.
Dave Michels: What I like about the NEC approach, when I was talking to them about it, they effectively have two clients. They have the one that runs on Adobe Flash, which is the same for the PC and for the Android-based phones, and I guess other phones that support Flash. Then, they have their other client, which is their IOS client. So, we were talking about NEC had some brand new Android devices that were coming out. I asked them if it was going to work on the new Android devices, and they said, "well, yes." They hadn’t tested it or anything. They just knew that because it was based on Flash it would work on the following devices. I thought that was a nice approach.
Go ahead, Samantha.
Samantha Kane: I just wanted to build on Blair’s comments. I think that this site and what we see here with NEC really demonstrates their seasoning and their expertise. That they’ve been in this environment for not a short time. It’s not something new. They have methodically thought about this and through bumps in the road they have come to a seasoned delivery.
Dave Michels: Great. Let’s jump over to the Toshiba client. We don’t talk a lot about Toshiba generally. But they are competing in the UC space and they’ve got a number of interesting solutions. Their client really stood out in a number of ways. I’m not sure if they are positive. Marty, what are your thoughts on the Toshiba client?
Marty Parker: Well, I was fascinated by what they had done. Amongst everything we’re going to talk about here except perhaps Avaya, they chose not to chase the traditional chat/buddy list type of approach. Maybe this client is more comfortable for their customers who tend to be small to mid-sized businesses who are used to key systems with multiple buttons and so forth because that’s kind of what I see when I look here.
I see the sales desk button, the Yahoo button, a Larry Meyer button. I see different buttons. I see tabs down below, folders for things like chat and history and contacts if I want to go there. But, initially it just looks like a set of buttons I can push. It also has a familiar Microsoft Office ribbon so I can do hold, hang up, transfer and so forth in a ribbon-like look. So, it feels to me like they’ve tried to make this client comfortable for people that are used to something else rather than trying to make it look like an IM chat window.
That may be very effective. They may get a lot of uptake for this amongst their target audience.
Dave Michels: The bright colors and the big fonts, it almost looks like spam to me. I think the information is relevant and useful, but it just graphically doesn’t please my eye.
Marty Parker: Yeah, I don’t know. That may be really a question of personal taste. I wonder if they have a button where you can change the look and feel from neon to midnight or something, and have a different look and feel to the user’s preference, but I don’t see that button here.
Dave Michels: Yeah, it probably does have a number of customizations. Let’s jump over to the Microsoft Lync client, which as I said for years is surprisingly similar to the Skype client even before they acquired Skype. Kevin, what do you have to say about the Lync client?
Kevin Kieller: Well, I think what we see with the Lync client is we see Microsoft’s approach of just constantly evolving something. Arguably, the Lync client represents the fourth evolution – there was LCS and OCS and OCSR2, but that was really its own product. Now we have the Lync client. I think what you see and certainly what I’ve been able to witness with actual customers using it, is Microsoft has taken a lot of feedback, a lot of feedback from the usability labs and done some things to make Lync even easier to use.
I don’t think it’s pushing the boundaries in terms of design. But things like, for example with Lync…even though on OCS you could just type a phone number and have OCS dial it, many people didn’t know that. Maybe they didn’t get the training that I spoke of at the beginning of this podcast. So Lync, based on feedback, they’ve added a dial pad that looks as you would expect, like a telephone dial pad, and certainly seems to resonate with a lot of users and make it seem easier to use; although arguably it’s pretty much the same as OCS.
So, I certainly see that evolution. With Lync, they’ve taken the separate Live Meeting client and they’ve combined that directly into Lync, which is a nice experience as you can truly seamlessly move from instant messaging to a voice call to video and sharing your desktop. It doesn’t go through that cumbersome process that we had in OCS in terms of launching a separate client. But the other thing, and I think somebody is going to follow up on this, Lync really, and this is Microsoft’s strength, is a platform. So, all of the user interface elements – I’m putting on my developer’s hat – all of those are available to developers.
So people have talked about the client disappearing and moving into a communication enabled business process where those tools are part of other applications and you can see with SharePoint and with Office. Those, from a developer’s perspective, are the exact same Lync code base. So, even though you don’t see Lync, you know it allows the developers to have a similar user experience. I think we’re going to see more of that.
So this is very much, for me, the methodical Microsoft, (keeps) going in the same direction. We’re on the fourth version and they are getting a lot of things right.
Dave Michels: Have you tried the Lync Mobile Client?
Kevin Kieller: I did. That came out on Sunday, I think, at 8 p.m., and Sunday at midnight we had it installed and running. It’s a Version 1 mobile client: instant messaging, presence, that call via work or that callback. It definitely works. It definitely expands some of the capabilities – basically just instant messaging and presence at this point – to the Window’s phone, the iPhone, iPad, and Android. It does an acceptable job as Version 1, but once again it doesn’t push any boundaries in terms of wonderful design.
Dave Michels: Very good. Any other comments on Lync?
Marty Parker: To build a bit on what Kevin said, Dave, I’ll just emphasize that besides the platform concepts that Kevin mentioned, Microsoft actually is delivering these functionalities. IBM, with their Sametime product, is doing the same where they are quite happy to have the client disappear behind other application software.
So, you can be inside Outlook, you can be working in your Outlook client and have all the communication functionality there by just right clicking on...you’ll see a presence icon on everybody on the To and Copy lists. You can right click to communicate from that point. In fact, when you do, the IM chat window, for example, would have the subject of the email built right into the client.
Similarly, if you integrate it with SharePoint, if you are working in a SharePoint workspace, everybody who’s participating in that work space is shown on a communication list somewhere on the screen – usually over on the right side. You don’t have to open the Lync client to start communicating with other people in the workspace. Then, you go the layer beyond that and you see case studies on the Microsoft site and on the IBM site you see case studies as well, where the client functionality just totally disappears inside say Wonderware manufacturing software or Schlumberger oil exploration software or with IBM’s Salina insurance brokerage portals. I think we will see more of that over time which exposes the functionality exactly in the way that the workflow proceeds.
Dave Michels: Marty, why don’t you continue, but jump ahead to the Jabber client from Cisco.
Marty Parker: Sure. There is some really interesting stuff going on with Cisco. As we know, Cisco has grown aggressively through acquisition. It takes a few years for all the pieces usually to come together into an integrated element. That is about what’s happening just about now with Cisco in terms of their UC client. They bought Jabber, the big IM company, a few years ago and now Jabber the name is the name for their new UC client implementations and it’s going to subsume the functionalities that used to be Cisco’s Unified Personal Communicator. So, it will work with Cisco’s Unified Communication Manager and the whole enterprise calling function. It also will become the communication interface inside WebEx meetings. WebEx meetings are going to become somewhat more like SharePoint where you can post and store documents related to the meeting and the meetings will have persistence, but Jabber will be the communication client.
Jabber will also be their public-facing IM client. So, you see the Jabber brand becoming the communication interface. Actually, it will subsume WebEx Connect as well. It will become the communication interface across the Cisco portfolio. I think that Cisco probably will put some pretty significant energy behind that because they know that in the face of both enterprise and online services such as they see from IBM with Sametime IBM connections and Lotus Live, and from Microsoft with Lync and Skype and Office 365 with Lync online. They know they have to be out there with an integrated unified brand.
They also have a VP who is in charge of user look and feel. So, I kind of like the cleanness and simplicity of that client that you show in the slideshow.
Dave Michels: The client in the slideshow is clearly a MAC client. I am curious if the PC version looks the same way or not? Blair, do you know that or do you have any opinion on the Jabber client?
Blair Pleasant: One thing that I was going to add is that they’ve also got the Jabber SDK, which is pretty powerful. That makes it easier to run the Jabber client on different devices and different environments like on the iPad. So, at the Cisco Collaboration Summit, Barry O’Sullivan showed a very impressive demo of Jabber on the iPad and it showed that it was able to do integrative collaboration – IM voice/video sharing – all those things on the iPad.
I’m not sure if it looks exactly the same on the MAC and the PC. I assume it doesn’t just because most of the clients I’ve seen have some differences. But, the abilities will still be the same.
Dave Michels: How do they position the iPad client with Jabber verses the Cius?
Blair Pleasant: It’s different capabilities for different needs. People who use the Cius; it’s really more for conferencing and collaboration. And, that’s what they are buying the Cius for. It’s really a conferencing and collaboration device and experience. Whereas the iPad you are getting it because it’s the iPad. So, it’s not going to have all the full blown communication capabilities. So, you’ll still be able to do some of it but not all of it. It’s really not designed in the same way.
Marty Parker: Blair, they also positioned it, as I recall from their Collaboration Summit as the only answer that is reasonable, given “bring your own device.” Not everybody was buying a Cius; iPads were walking in the door, so you better support them.
Blair Pleasant: Yeah, exactly. But you know, they are different experiences and they are used for different things. But I have to say, some of the demos I have seen and the use cases of using the Cius, it’s very impressive, especially (the examples I've seen) in hospitals. There are some great use cases of people using the Cius to track down doctors and physicians to be able to release patients in a more timely manner.
So, there definitely is a need in certain situations for the Cius. But it has to be really based on the use case whereas everyone and their brother is getting an iPad these days.
Marty Parker: Yeah, and Blair if I can just comment on what you said. Notice what she talked about in terms of say, a hospital application for Cius. That’s not an application for Cius. That’s an application for communication enabled business processes displayed on a Cius. I think this is the point – even the venders themselves get enamored with their shiny objects rather than emphasizing what they are delivering is an improved business process.
Dave Michels: Michael, you’ve been very quiet. I want to hear your thoughts on the Siemens client.
Michael Finneran: There are two, really. I spent more time on the Siemens mobile client – the OpenScape Mobile. The desktop is nice, clean, and European. But, they do have a neat advantage on the mobile. In OpenScape Mobile one of the features is the ability to switch the call from the mobile device to a desktop and eventually to any other phone you’d have. But they do it using a gesture that they call, Call Swipe. You tap it, it pops up either your desk phone or another phone to transfer the call to.
For example, you can be talking over your Wi-Fi network and transfer to cellular or to your desk and you just use the swipe gesture to move the call over. It’s really quite attractive. And sort of the fun thing that people get a kick out of in a good mobile interface. That’s what I really wanted to comment on, Dave.
Dave Michels: When I look at the Siemens one, I see a lot of the… I guess all the clients have some icons, but the Siemens client has these icons that confuse me and I had immediate flashbacks to when I was in Europe trying to figure out how to work a dishwasher; it was all iconic. And, apparently the triangles are conferences… I’m not sure of the difference between a blue triangle and a green triangle. But they are clearly more internationally focused on this client. That could be a good thing once you get used to those icons.
I want to jump into Avaya with their Flare experience. Blair, can you explain (it) – there are different kinds of Flare experiences now? Is that correct?
Blair Pleasant: Well, yes there are different types of Flares. There is the Flare Experience, which originally was created to run on the Avaya desktop video device or the ADVD. We were talking about Cius, so this is kind of similar. It’s an Android communication and collaboration device. It has HD video, HD camera, HD audio, microphones and other things. So that’s a device that Avaya created. Originally the Flare experience was for that device. Then Avaya said from day one that they were going to expand the experience to run on other devices. So, the first thing they introduced was Flare on the iPad, but it’s the Flare Communicator; it’s not the Flare Experience. The main difference is video. So, while the Flare Experience has video, the Flare Communicator does not.
So right now… Avaya just introduced Flare Communicator for iPad. Then the next step is going to be introducing Flare Experience for the iPad, which will have video. Then, they are also going to introduce Flare Communicator and Flare Experience for other operating systems and other types of devices, but that’s NDA and I don’t know what’s public and what isn’t. So, I won’t say any more on that. But, the main differences are video or the lack of.
Dave Michels: The Flare experience is a very different approach to the UC client, probably the most unique approach right now. Do you want to take a stab at trying to explain the spotlight metaphor?
Blair Pleasant: I really like the spotlight metaphor. The way it looks is there is this spotlight in the middle of the screen. When you want to have a conference with somebody or call somebody, you drag their contact card over to the spotlight and then you can initiate a call with them and you can drag other cards into that spotlight so you can easily set up a conference call.
Then you can also do sub conferences. You can have another spotlight where you might drag a couple of people into that conference so you can have different sub conferences going on. I really like the idea of the spotlight and it’s kind of intuitive and it’s easy to do voice, video and have these different modes of communication. The problem is the few times I’ve tried it or the several times I’ve tried it, it just isn’t as smooth and seamless as I’d like it to be. Dragging the contact card over… it’s not like the iPad where you flip something, flip your finger and it’s over there really nice and smooth. Even when I’ve seen some of the Avaya people demoing it, it just doesn’t work as smoothly as I’d like it to. I haven’t tried it with the iPad, so I don’t know how that works. Hopefully they’ve improve it a bit.
Dave Michels: So, it might be less of a spotlight and more of a deer in the headlight, huh?
Blair Pleasant: Yeah, it could be. But, again, I love the concept, but I’d like to see it work a little bit better.
Dave Michels: Art, do you have any thoughts on the Flare client?
Art Rosenberg: Well, I just want to reinforce the observation that we’re bringing the interface to the fore. Whether it’s at the desktop or mobile or whatever, it’s got to be simple, fast, and error-proof because if it misses the boat on any of that, people are just not going to use it.
Dave Michels: Very good. How about you, Don?
Don Van Doren: Thanks Dave. Just one observation about IBM; they’ve been talked about some here before, but I think they, like Microsoft, are really showing their client inside of other kinds of applications, or linked with some… shouldn’t use that word...but really embedded into it or a part of things like Connections and some of the other IBM capabilities that are out there.
IBM in the NoJitter notes that are on here, points out that they are the only one of these venders that doesn’t offer their own voice solution. Of course IBM is touting that as a benefit and the fact that they can solve a lot of the federation issues and things that we talked about before with some of the other venders by simply providing access into a number of different PBX environments within one enterprise. So, they’ve got their own story that they are telling on this whole thing, and I think it is resonating with some of their customers.
Dave Michels: Very good. Well, with that I’d like to thank all the experts for participating. It think it’s been a really interesting conversation. We’ll be back next week.
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