This week Cisco Systems held its annual digital collaboration event, the WebexOne conference. This conference is the one time a year we dive deep into the latest Webex features and focus on how Webex is improving the collaboration experience on its platform.
I wrote about last year’s improvements to Webex that launched at the WebexOne conference, and you can read that write-up here. Over the previous 12 months, over 1,000 new features were added to Webex, all aimed at improving the experience of Hybrid workers.
Cisco is taking advantage of this hybrid work shift by investing deeply into creating what it considers the best user experience possible within its Webex collaboration platform. I wrote about the company’s rebrand from Webex to Webex by Cisco, and since then, it has been relentless in improving its platform and capabilities. Cisco had some exciting news and announcements about Webex, which was shared this week at WebexOne.
Let’s dig into the announcements.
New headsets: Bang & Olufsen Cisco 980 Headset
An “experience” constitutes the hardware, software and services. Hardware matters. There’s no doubt that most hybrid workers use a set of earbuds or a headset to power their collaboration experience. Clear audio and noise cancellation is essential for my productivity as a hybrid worker.
Cisco announced a new headset, the Bang & Olufsen Cisco 980 headset, which collaborated with Bang & Olufsen to bring the product to life. The headset merges a premium design with thoughtful hardware capabilities. It checks many boxes for me with Bluetooth 5.1, Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation, a Virtual Boom Arm, and the premium acoustics and audio that Bang & Olufsen has built its brand on. Just by looking at the pictures, the design seems large but premium. I expect that the headset will be comfortable as most over-the-ear headsets provide an extra level of comfort when compared to earbuds.
These should also be easy to manage and deploy from an IT perspective as well. I’ll have to experience the headset to say whether it delivers on the promise, but I like what I see on paper. From a CYOD perspective, this will be very high on the list as it’s…B&O.
Cisco confirmed that the Bang & Olufsen Cisco 980 headset will be available in early 2022, starting at $549.
Webex 320 Headset
The other headset solution that was new from Cisco was the Webex 320 headset. This headset seems to be a budget-friendly option for enterprise users needing an office headset for productivity. The system looks lightweight and straightforward to use as there aren’t many mechanisms on the headset.
Initially, the Webex 320 headset seems like a standard wired headset with a bendable boom arm and noise cancelation, but one feature makes it different from a standard wired headset. That feature is the integrated Webex button. With the Webex 320 Headset, you can manage Webex calls from a dedicated Webex button on the side of the headset. There are also in-ear notifications that notify you when it’s time to join a meeting.
Webex is improving its standard headset options to offer more features while remaining at an affordable price point. I could not confirm the exact price, but the headset will be available for purchase in January of 2022.
Webex Desk Mini
There were a couple of brand-new display devices that we saw announced at WebexOne 2021. The first of those is the Webex Desk Mini. The new device is a portable display that can move anywhere where you want to take a meeting.
The system has a 15″ touch 1080p display, 64-degree HD camera, a speaker, and a microphone with background noise removal. The Webex Desk Mini also has an integrated handle for easy transport and a USB-C connection in the back for peripherals. Several color options for the Webex Desk Mini include Light Gray, Carbon Black, Desert Sand, Nordic Blue, and Woodland Green.
Overall, I like the new Webex Desk Mini. You get a lot of features and functionality with a smaller footprint. A typical enterprise user or remote worker will tell you that desk space is limited so having a moveable collaboration device that easily slots into most areas with a tabletop is an excellent addition for Webex.
This is a gutsy device and I give Cisco credit for taking the chance with it.
The Webex Desk Mini will be available for purchase this December.
Webex Board Pro
The next big collaboration device that Cisco announced was the Webex Board Series. Think of this as a digital whiteboard designed for video conferencing and physical collaboration where you can write on the Board with a high-precision pen. These types of devices seem particularly useful for in-office collaboration between team members.
The two new Webex Board Pro models include both a 55″ and a 75″ configuration. Both models have an UltraHD interactive touchscreen, Dual 4K cameras, built-in speakers and microphone, flexible mounting and wheel-stand options, and two magnetic styluses.
I find it particularly useful that Webex automatically stores whatever you create on the Webex Board within the cloud. That way, users can open work later on any device that has Webex installed. Another feature that the Board Pro models support is automatic wake when a user enters a conference room. After the Board wakes up, it will detect devices where the Webex app is running, and it can suggest an activity based on what is happening in your Webex app.
If Webex can get enterprise customers to adopt these Webex Board Pro’s widely, I am sure users could derive much value from its top-notch collaboration experience. I think one of the keys here will be interoperability with MS Office 365 and Google Workspaces as I believe true collaboration and the price enterprises are willing to pay require solid support for office apps.
Both the 55″ and 75″ Webex Board Pro models will be available for purchase this December.
New software features
There were too many software features to cover in a single article, but I want to touch on the main ones.
- Webex Go: This solution allows users to get all the features of an enterprise smartphone on their device. With Webex Go, users get enterprise-grade Webex Calling features added as a dedicated business line to a user’s personal phone.
- Webex Collaboration Insights: Several metrics built within Webex Collaboration Insights seek to beat burnout and drive engagement among team members. The dashboard measures important metrics like work time patterns, connections, well-being, and cohesion. These insights can help managers better address work issues backed by data.
- Webex People Focus: The people focus camera capabilities aim to give better quality views of meeting attendees’ body language and facial gestures while on a video conferencing call. Cisco plans to break each in-person team member into an on-screen box to connect remote workers with a singular face when collaborating via video.
- AI-powered audio intelligence: Webex optimizes each unique participant’s audio levels to ensure every participant can be heard in varying working environments. The software can also differentiate background noise and unwanted speech from intended speech. I have used AI background noise eliminators myself, and it is a game-changer when you work from anywhere.
There is plenty of other software improvements that I could write about, but I captured many of the highlighted ones. If you want to get a more in-depth rundown of what was launched, you can access the full keynote here.
A Key Collaboration, and a Glimpse of the Future
Webex iPad app
A Cisco and Apple collaboration deserves a more in-depth analysis than the cliff notes versions listed above. Cisco claimed that it had seen a 200% increase in Webex Meeting usage on mobile devices in the last 18 months. This increase doesn’t surprise me much, as mobile offers a flexible way to collaborate while on the move. One of the announcements we saw at WebexOne was the new Webex iPad application.
This application expands the device ecosystem and allows you to run the new application on iPadOS. Some typical Apple features like Split View, Center Stage, and Apple Pencil support will be supported within the Webex iPad app. It is nice that Webex enabled the same features that iPad users already use for productivity and collaboration.
Although I am not a big iPad or Mac user myself, I see some value of developing out the Webex device ecosystem. The more devices compatible with Webex, the more compelling the value proposition is to large enterprise customers that deploy many Apple devices throughout the company.
One of the more exciting points Cisco made is that the company has created an Apple development and design team to continue to develop Webex for the Apple device ecosystem. The next step in this Webex and Apple collaboration is to create an application that allows users to run Webex native on a Mac system. For now, the new Webex app for iPadOS will be available next month.
The most interesting and forward-leaning new Webex feature, in my opinion, was Cisco’s new holographic collaboration solution, Webex Hologram. It claims this is the industries’ first real-time holographic collaboration solution, which seems accurate from my perspective. In short, a user chooses an AR headset of choice, and Webex leverages AR technology to broadcast a holographic image into a remote user’s view.
The main benefit of this type of tech is providing a more comprehensive collaboration experience for remote workers to connect with in-person workers in real-time. I could see this being particularly useful to designers and engineers who are often viewing 3D models. You can also view physical content being shared by other users through the AR environment as well. The experience is multi-dimensional and doesn’t limit the experience to a single angle view.
I like that Cisco allows users to plug and play with the AR headset of their choice. Magic leap and Microsoft HoloLens were a couple of headsets that Webex recommended for use with Webex Hologram.
I had the chance to use the Webex Hologram with a Microsoft HoloLens 2 in a managed demo doing a Webex video call and manipulating various objects like a designer would and see the opportunity. Cisco told me this isn’t just a demo and real customers were using this in production. The experience seemed a bit more like a demo to me, a bit rough. I look forward to reading some reviews and testimonials of more remote and hybrid engineers and designers soon.
At a WebexOne event, we discussed everything from management tools to usage models to new devices in a single day. But there is one thing I can say with certainty: Cisco is no doubt improving the hybrid working experience through its hardware and software solutions. It takes quality video and crisp, clean audio to create a great collaboration experience, but Cisco is taking that a step further and making it more immersive as well.
It is great to see competition from the biggest collaboration companies like Cisco, Poly, Google, Microsoft, 8×8, Zoom, Lenovo, and now HP. There is no doubt that the end-user will be the winner of all these companies fighting to create the best collaboration platform for hybrid work.
Cisco seems entirely committed to becoming the leadership collaboration brand. This WebexOne conference showed us a potent mix of software and hardware that looks into the company’s core capabilities. Great job to the Cisco and Webex teams.