Google launches innovative office whiteboard

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Working in a modern office can be pretty strange. People can go hours without speaking to their co-workers, yet they are in constant communication with them through electronic communication. This is the state of office collaboration in 2017.

Google has been improving this space for years with tools like Docs and Drive, and it’s now taking a step into the physical world with an alternative to Microsoft’s digital whiteboard the Surface Hub.  Google’s take is called the Jamboard. It’s a digital, internet-connected “whiteboard” that looks like a blown-up children’s tablet, and it launches in the US today. The product is expensive at nearly $5,000 , but the Jamboard already feels like a fun, useful way to work with co-workers who can’t be there in person.

The basics of the Jamboard are just like a whiteboard. You walk up to it, pick up a pen, and start writing. But that’s where the similarities stop. The Jamboard is really a 55-inch interactive screen. And it isn’t just for one person to work on — everything written on one Jamboard can be mirrored across dozens of other Jamboards, as well as computer and tablet screens. The people on the other side of those devices can work on the very same board, too.

 The product is dead simple to get started with and is surprisingly fun to use. You just start writing, and your text or scribbles appear for everyone else. There are tools to help you draw shapes and sketch in different sizes and colors, and there is some truly excellent handwriting recognition that was even able to make sense of borderline illegible markings. It’s really that good and there are emoji physics so you can bounce them around the screen.

Brainstorming on a whiteboard really doesn’t work if you have remote colleague but it’s pretty easy to imagine that, with a couple of Jamboards, employees in multiple offices could start handwriting their own thoughts on the board as ideas get thrown around. And remote co-workers would be able to view the presentation on the web or add their own thoughts through the Jamboard tablet app.

The Jamboard also has some much more obviously digital features, like the ability to pull in photos and website screenshots, to add emoji and other stickers, and to take pictures with a built-in webcam. (It can also be used for video chatting… and selfies.) These features are pretty simple right now, for better or worse. It quickly becomes apparent that the Jamboard isn’t going to be used for anything close to the final, presentable work you get in something like Docs or PowerPoint — it’s good at one thing: creating what are essentially big collages.

Google is already considering ways to update the Jamboard to make it integrate with other tools that workplaces rely on. This could mean the entire Jamboard switching over to a professional app, like Trello, or it could mean new tools and widgets inside the existing Jamboard experience.

The Jamboard’s simplicity is also what sets it apart from Microsoft’s direct challenger: the surface hub— its own giant, collaborative display. Unlike Microsoft Surface Hub, Jamboard is not meant be a computer on your wall. It is definitely a collaborative whiteboard. If you have a Jamboard on the wall and a Surface Hub next to it, people would be able to go up to the Jamboard and use it right away, and I would challenge that that’s not true with a computer on the wall.

Being able to see your co-worker writing on the board could make the experience feel more personal and collaborative and it could provide important conversational cues, like whether your colleague is about to write something or is looking back to you for input.

“Google plans on spending a lot of time in communications and in meeting spaces and in collaboration, so I think it’s safe to say that, yes, this space will see a lot of activity” says Googles developer of the Jamboard TJ Varghese.

Varghese said that video conferencing and working with documents are two areas that Google is interested in exploring. He also said there’s more room to bring Google’s cloud intelligence down to office products.

Above: Jonathan Rochelle, director of product management at Google, demoes the Jamboard.

Sales of the Jamboard begin today in the US, with the product selling for $4,999, plus an additional $600-per-year service fee for every single unit. If you want a rolling stand to put one on, instead of just a wall mount, you’re looking at another $1,349 (though those last two prices are discounted through September).

In the future, the Jamboard could replace traditional video conferencing screens but for now it’s a really innovative and weirdly fun tablet that allows employees to collaborate, and will see early adopting company’s and those that like to show off the latest technology in their work space, investing in Google latest device for their boardrooms.

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