Google dials into the teleconferencing businessFebruary 7, 2014: 9:54 AM ET
Chrome for the corporate masses? The folks in Mountain View take a hard look at a market of extremes and aim right down the middle.
FORTUNE -- The latest piece of hardware from Google (GOOG) is Chromebox for Meetings, a $999 kit that the company says is a cheaper, simpler alternative to existing teleconferencing and videoconferencing systems like Cisco's TelePresence (CSCO) and Polycom's RealPresence (PLCM). Up to 15 participants can join a video meeting using the new Chromebox, simply by logging in with a Gmail account -- no other passwords or PINs necessary.
The product was unveiled at a press event at the company's headquarters on Thursday morning, and is available immediately in the U.S.. Afterward, Fortune caught up with Caesar Sengupta, vice president of product management for Google's Chromebooks, to find out why the company wants in on this business, and why he thinks its product is superior to others already on the market.
Fortune: Why are you launching this?
Sengupta: We spend a lot more time working with distributed offices these days, but the methods and means we use to communicate have stayed the same. Most meeting rooms look the same as they've looked for the last 25 years. We still use audioconferencing. We thought, how much nicer would it be if we were able to apply a lot of the things we've learned over the years in this space?
Describe the new product. What is it exactly and what does it do?
We're trying to bring all the power of Google services to a meeting room. It all starts with how do you book a meeting room? If you're standing outside a meeting room, how do you know if it's available? How do you present to your colleagues without fighting for adapters? How do you have a fantastic experience that's face to face? We can bring very sophisticated technology at prices that anyone can buy. You can get a very high-quality videoconferencing system for less than $1,000. [The kit includes a new Chromebox, remote control, high-definition camera and a combined microphone and speaker unit. In addition to the hardware cost of $999, there is also an annual $250 subscription cost for the service, though the first year's fee is waived -- Ed.]
Why does Google want to play in this space?
At Google we look at big problems to solve. In this case we looked at the meeting room space that hasn't had much innovation. The only innovation has happened at the very, very high end of the market. We thought we could bring something very innovative that's game-changing in this space on top of this [Chrome] platform.
But aren't there already cheaper, simpler videoconferencing solutions out there? Isn't this an already saturated market?
No, because if you talk to companies you find that there are two extremes in this space: You either have these high-end systems, or you have to mix and match and put together your own solution. When you do that you don't get the right quality and the right audio. And it might be limited to your network. So we found this gap. This is a meeting in a box. There's no back-end to set up, no funky hardware to configure in the right way. Everything that comes in the box just works seamlessly. As we looked around and tried to do this internally, for Google, we didn't find any solution that solved this problem. Now we have a number of companies already testing this out, and the demand in this space has been absolutely staggering. It was amazing how many people wanted this.