Polycom’s RealPresence for iPad 2: Utterly brilliant

This morning I did a video conference call from my office at home in Ascot. My equipment was simply a BT Infinity internet connection along with an iPad 2 running Polycom’s all new RealPresence app.

My colleague’s equipment? £15k’s worth of Polycom kit attached to a whopping 42″ screen. He even has a little control for pointing the camera.

I’m pleased to report that the results were flipping fantastic.

Here’s how it worked.

When I started up the app, I was immediately presented with a dial-pad. My colleague gave me his IP address. I typed it in. Bang. His smiling face appeared.

I’ve always wanted to ‘dial an IP address’, ever since someone years ago told me that they’d like to replace their phone number with an IP. It’s geeky, I know.

I chatted away on the iPad and I have to say the experience was seamless.

The downside — as the app’s write-up on the App Store points out — is that in order for this stuff to work properly, you really need an enterprise deployment of Polycom’s RealPresence Infrastructure (“CMA 5.4 and higher”). My colleague has got that. Indeed, his company has a couple of hundred ‘codexes’ (as he referred to them — i.e. endpoints). So much so that he makes huge, huge use of video conferencing.

The concept with the iPad app is simple: Polycom are making sure that everyone can participate. So whilst your typical massive enterprise might deploy dozens and dozens of Polycom-enabled meeting rooms worldwide (along with individual desktop units), the reality is that not everyone will be connected. Give’em all an iPad and boom, you’ve now connected the company. Or, as is more likely, give senior executives an iPad (or, let’s be honest, they’ve probably already got one) so just connect those iPads into the Polycom RealPresence service and you’re done. Everyone can HD-conference to their heart’s content.

You do need some decent networking infrastructure too from somebody like Verizon. And you’ll need to do a good deal with Polycom for all their kit.

The net effect is nothing short of science fiction though. It’s like in the movies. Indeed I couldn’t help but think of a variety of scenes from the movie Aliens where video calling is used in common-place situations. It’s also very, very Star Trek.

Video conferencing is nothing new. FaceTime is a super example of a consumer product that you can definitely use for business purposes. The problem is when you want to scale beyond one-to-one. With most business meetings you typically need more than 2 folk, right? That’s FaceTime out. Skype, or Google+ Hangouts can cope.. but not to the level that most of us need for enterprise quality discussions.

My colleague does most of his key work at home nowadays. And why not? It’s the ultimate future-work lifestyle. What’s the point of getting on the train every day when you can talk to colleagues properly and constructively via video — for free* — without all the overhead?

* Free in the context of having to spend a lot of money on RealPresence and Polycom hardware.

Adding the iPad into the mix for real time video calling just makes things even sweeter, I think.

Have you seen this stuff working? It really is very, very smart. Good work on the iPad app, Polycom.

Have you checked out any alternatives I should be examining?

Read all about Polycom RealPresence here. I should point out that you can use their services not just on iPad but on the Motorola XOOM and the Samsung Galaxy Tab too.

Here’s a video giving a brief overview of the iPad 2 app:

And now, have a look at this swish demo I found on Youtube:

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  • Mike42

    I have so many video clients on my iPad they have their own group :-)

    Haven’t seen the Polycom one though – looks interesting.

    The trick is how much it costs to scale. There are some clients that are low cost, some that are very good, some that need good WiFi and some optimised for rubbish bandwidth. Enterprise wants scalability at low cost, individuals want low one-off cost and ability to operate without infrastructure. companies like Bluejeans are pushing this sort of no-box model into enterprise, but it’s still not robust enough IMHO to sell to a CEO.

    The Mirial / Clearsea / Lifesize one needs a very good connection or turns to pixellated hell very quickly. The Vidyo one, based on SVC, works very well, but is a bit niche. The Scopia Mobile one from Radvision is really looking good right now – the business model of paying for ports, not individual licences works well. Webex is still one-way video olny, but is genius for sharing preso’s, as you’d expect it to be.

    Moving away from the normal codecs is critical, as with iPads in use all over the place you cannot rely on solid bandwidth or tons of processor power. The development of SVC and newer codecs is really pushing what devices like iPads can achieve. The biggest current limitation is the rubbish camera on the iPad!

  • http://pencilforge.com Dmitri

    This is fantastic, however I should say that Skype does HD video calling and now video conferencing (I’m not sure if it’s HD) and it’s free. Many businesses use it and it is phenomenal! 
    The cost of setting up the Polycom stuff is a barrier to entry for, well, everyone. And the last time I checked their website, it seems like they don’t really make it easy to find out how to get their services… not even for the normal schmuck that just wants to day dream of buying their products one day. The viewer is just hit with a wall of text.

    Like a business person who has little time is going to waste it reading all of that! Pfft

  • Broadband Visual Communication

    Great aritcle, however the price of the RealPresence platform need not be a barrier to getting this working. Many companies offer subscription based access to their hosted cloud platforms to allow you to use the RealPresence Mobile application without having to purchase the expensive hardware yourself!

  • http://twitter.com/MilwaukeeMax Nicholas La Joie

    Ewan, this is a nice write up, however you’ll find in time that videoconferencing over WiFi is less-than-ideal in terms of data packet loss and call reliability. Your call might have worked swimmingly well and wireless networks are getting faster and faster these days, but I was in a conference with someone from Polycom using RealPresence for iPad2 just the other day and–while most of the time things held up– there were several moments of lag and data loss. 

    On a side note, you should take a look at Apple’s iChat for desktop videoconferencing. It has been around for quite a long time and has been able to host multiple video calls for years and years (well before Skype even fathomed the concept). The call quality on iChat, in my opinion, is second to none. 

  • Aliasgar Babat

    This is really good, however, RHUB web video conferencing appliances also provides 15-way video conferencing, wherein, it allows 15 webcams to join a video conference.

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