Like a fax machine, videoconferencing equipment seems to be a technology that most companies invest in, even if they rarely use it. Now, a Google veteran has launched Highfive, a $799 device that promises (again) to make videoconferencing simple.
What Highfive boils down to is a system that uses an old Google trick—“throwing” a mobile conferencing app to a standalone device, like the Google Chromecast—to quickly hand off an on-the-go conferencing session into a more formal setting. The idea, according to the company’s founders, is to help eliminate all the tedious scheduling that can go on when all you need to do is virtually huddle with a few remote coworkers.
Why this matters: Videoconferencing technology can involve a lot of money and complicated setups, often for little return. For $799, Highfive promises a cheaper and easier alternative.
How it works
Shan Sinha, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, was formerly the group product manager for Google Apps for Enterprise. According to Sinha, Google invested millions in developing videoconferencing technology, which later emerged as the $999 Chromebox for Meetings solution.
“One of the things I noticed throughout my career… is that there is a universal problem getting people connected to have a conversation,” Sinha said. “Every time you sit down to have a conversation in a conference room, it takes 15 minutes just to get everyone connected.”
With Highfive, users send a link to one another, proposing a conference using their existing calendar tools, whatever they may be. Users then click the link to open the Highfive mobile app—which, somewhat ironically for an ex-Google employee, is strictly for the iPhone at the moment. (An Android app is due in the coming months, Sinha said.) Remote users can also join via a Chrome extension for the Mac or Windows PC.
When the mobile app is opened, users see icons representing each speaker. The software shows who is speaking at the moment, Google Hangouts-style.
Here’s the Highfive trick: If a user walks into a conference room with a Highfive device installed, he or she can throw the conference to the device, simply by swiping a button on his or her phone. The Highfive device, which uses an ethernet jack and a HDMI connection to output to a TV, then controls the call.
Not surprisingly, Sinha said his solution was superior to his former employer’s Chromebox for Meetings solution, which he called “hacked together.” “If you’re not a Google Apps customer, it’s a non-starter for the 90 percent of the world who’s not on Google,” he said.
Aside from the device, the Highfive service is free to use. A $10 per user, per month Premium version, due soon, will add branding and the ability to perform one-to-many “town halls,” Sinha said.
Unfortunately, as easy as Highfive sounds, it’s currently going to be a non-starter for the 85 percent of the world’s phones that currently run on Android. That hasn’t stopped 100 customers, like Netflix and Warby Parker, from trying it out, however, according to Sinha. But will it replace established solutions like Skype, or simple audio dial-in services? That may be a bit more of a challenge.