The announcement last week from Cisco about a new home telepresence offering struck me as a bit odd. We’ve all known that Cisco wants to own the corporate network, and with the acquisition of Linksys, is now gunning for your home network too. But a home telepresence system in a box? From Cisco?
A high-end Cisco telepresence suite easily costs somewhere in the mid six-figures range; their middle market telepresence system will still set you back tens of thousands. The umi is priced at $600, plus a $24.99 per month service plan. Tech analysts bristled at the price tag and instantly decried it as too high. After all, umi is marketed as a home telepresence option, yet carries a hefty price tag in comparison to free video chat tools like Skype, Google Chat (which can make video calls), and Apple FaceTime for iPhones/iPod Touch.
I kept asking myself: Who is this for? Who would buy such an expensive package, especially in this economy? Then I realized – That’s not the point.
Cisco is taking the reverse psychology approach to tech adoption than what we’ve seen before in the AV community. They have introduced the promise of telepresence for home users/consumers and then expect it to have a trickle-up effect. After all, as consumers we also have jobs as executives, managers, and decision makers when it comes to the purchase of tech at work.
Normally, we see new technology – either at work, in a public place, or at a friend’s house – and our brain gets to work trying to figure out how we can get it for ourselves at home. There are countless examples of this approach to AV tech adoption. We started seeing high end flat panels installed in conference rooms, churches, and retailers, and couldn’t wait to go 16:9 and 1080p at home. Home theaters are another great example. We know how great it is to see an action film on the big screen with perfect acoustics and surround sound in a movie theater, and created that same experience at home (minus the strangers and sticky floors.)
My theory is that Cisco’s umi is trying to mimic the effect that iDevices have had on our psyche. The popularity and ubiquity of touch screens at home means we want to (and expect to) see it everywhere outside the home. If I can have a touch screen in my pocket, why can’t this tech exist everywhere else?
So, will it work with telepresence? I guess we’ll know when AV integrators and system designers start getting the question “If I can have telepresence in a box for home, why can’t I have this at work too?”