Zoom Unveils Slew of New Features at Zoomtopia 2020

eWEEK COLLABORATION TREND ANALYSIS: Video vendor Zoom is showing it’s making a pivot from product to platform.

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Earlier this week, online meeting vendor Zoom held its annual user event, Zoomtopia, in an all-digital format--to the surprise of no one. If there’s one company that’s set up to deliver a high-quality, completely digital event, it’s Zoom, because the company was built on the concept of “meet happy.”

Events are certainly bigger than a traditional meeting, but the mechanisms are certainly similar, and Zoom used its platform to host the conference.

Zoom now a household name 

Zoom certainly has had an interesting past year; arguably, no other company has benefited from the pandemic as much as it has. Prior to COVID-19, most people had no idea what Zoom was. Today, the term “Zoom” is used with both negative and positive connotations. We say things like “See you on Zoom” or “I’ll set up a Zoom,” sometimes even when Zoom isn’t being used. But we also refer to “Zoom bombing” and “Zoom fatigue” when another platform is chosen. Thus, Zoom has become like Kleenex or Xerox as generic terms for the broader category.

How did this happen? One quick look at the numbers that CEO Eric Yuan presented in his keynote explains it. The first Zoomtopia was in 2017 and had 488 attendees with 10 sessions from 35 speakers and panelists. The 2020 event had more than 50,000 people watching 250-plus speakers host 90-plus sessions over the two-day event. Had the event been live, it certainly wouldn’t have drawn 50,000, but the numbers still would have been way up. 

Utilizations numbers are also off the charts with the Zoom platform now hosting more than 300 million daily meeting participants, which equates to a whopping 3 trillion annualized meeting minutes. The Zoom mobile app was also the No. 1-ranked app in the AppStore for 68 consecutive days when the pandemic started. That last data point showed how everyone flocked to it to work and learn virtually. 

New Zoom features shift it to a platform 

Zoom’s claim to fame is that it made video easy, and it certainly raised the bar on what easy means. However, most of the other united communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) vendors and meeting providers have solutions that are equally easy, so that won’t last as a differentiator. The announcements the company made at Zoomtopia are an indicator that Zoom is maturing and shifting from a “see you, see me” video system to more of a platform provider with a bigger ecosystem that raises its value. Notable announcements are: 

  • Zapps (Zoom apps) enable ISVs and developers to create apps that integrate with Zoom to enable seamless workflows. The meeting lifecycle is more than just the meeting. There’s a pre- and post- meeting phase as well, and Zapps gives developers a fast and agile way of using third parties. For example, there’s a Zapp for Box to make storing files easier; there’s a Zapp for Survey Monkey where a user could quickly launch a post-meeting survey. The idea is that if there’s a workflow built around Zoom, we can now say “There’s a Zapp for that.” This site lists the current launch partners. One Zapp conspicuously missing is Office365 and given the popularity of that, this would make sense.
  • OnZoom is a turnkey platform for users to create and host free, paid and fundraising events. Using Zoom for meetings was commonplace prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic turned the product into an event tool, and it’s been used for concerts, the NFL draft, sporting events, fundraisers and more. Event hosts can use OnZoom to grow their businesses, raise awareness, reach new markets and even give back through donation integration. The OnZoom site shows a wide range of use cases such as workouts, piano lessons, art and more. It’s a single place to go see what upcoming live events are delivered with all the functionality needed to host and run them.
  • End-to-end encryption is a new optional feature that ensures communications between meeting participants are kept secure. This can be enabled at the account, group and user level and can be turned on and off on a meeting by meeting basis. Zoom had some highly publicized problems with security early on, and this feature is a huge step in ensuring things that need to be kept secure are.
  • Customizable SDK enables developers to improve their own video apps with the Zoom platform. Software developers will have access to a custom user interface and session control, making it simple to embed Zoom into other applications. 

More features to its core product 

There were also a number of improvements and new features added to the core Zoom meeting platform. This includes new wallpapers and scenes for virtual backgrounds, voice-enabled collaboration for contactless meetings and enhanced whiteboarding. There also is an AI-based smart gallery where users in a room can be displayed on a person-by-person layout, E911, customizable lobbies, breakout rooms and more. 

E911 (Enhanced 911) is a service that automatically displays the telephone number and physical location of the 911 caller on the emergency operator's screen.

The company also announced the general availability of Zoom for Home, where people can use the DTEN ME endpoint and Facebook Portal. Coming soon is support for the Amazon Echo Show, Google Nest Hub Max and Yealink A20. 

An interesting set of devices is coming from hardware vendor Neat, which is partially funded by Zoom. Neat announced a range of in-office and personal devices, including a 65-inch Neat Board for Meetings, Neat Frame, which is a dedicated at-home device and the Neat One, a simple all-in-one camera that mounts on an external monitor. 

Zoom, Neat partner up

Zoom has chosen to let companies such as Neat do what they do best, which is hardware, while Zoom goes and builds best-in-class software. The broad hardware support from all the companies named above as well as Poly, Lenovo, HP and others is an indicator that hardware certainly is not dead. It’s changing; for example, the traditional desk phone is decline but has given way to a broader set of devices. 

The year 2020 will be remembered for a lot of things, including social issues and the pandemic. For Zoom, it’s the year it made the pivot from product vendor to platform. 

This is important; all of the big software vendors such as Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle and others are valuable because they let ecosystems partners add additional value. Zoom is making this shift--probably faster than it expected, but as Eric Yuan & Co. has shown, the company is great at listening to its customers and changing quickly to meet their needs. 

Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.