Remote meetings: Google hits grand 'jam' with innovative whiteboard

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Q. I am the CFO for a large organization where I deliver monthly financial reports to our several dozen locations via email and telephone conferencing. Unfortunately, this method is not very engaging, so we want to upgrade to a video­conferencing system. Which system would you recommend?

A. Two decades ago, videoconferencing solutions hit the marketplace, and corporate America jumped in with mixed results. Executives had hoped that videoconferencing would improve meeting effectiveness for remote meeting attendees and reduce the need for costly face-to-face travel. Unfortunately for some companies, videoconferencing fell short of expectations, primarily because it basically adds a talking head to the communications mix, which some feel doesn't add much value. What is missing from the traditional videoconferencing equation is the visual display of information as well as participant interaction with that information.

However, newly emerging digital whiteboard solutions for delivering financial reports to remote attendees might rectify those videoconference shortcomings. For example, in May 2017, Google launched the Jamboard, an interactive whiteboard (pictured below) ($4,999 price and an annual support fee of $600), which enables remote meeting attendees to more fully participate.

The Jamboard, a 55-inch digital whiteboard on wheels with 4K ultrahigh-definition display, can sync to other Jamboards throughout the world, allowing remote attendees to interact in a more meaningful way. As an example, consider a meeting taking place in New York, Atlanta, and Paris in which each location is equipped with a synchronized Jamboard. In this scenario, when participants write or draw on their respective Jamboards, their writings and markings show up instantly on all connected Jamboards. Further, additional remote attendees (located at their offices, homes, or hotel rooms) could also sync to this Jamboard-based meeting (referred to as a "jam session") via their iPads, smartphones, or desktop computers. These attendees need only to download the free Jamboard app to participate. In this scenario, it's easy to see how all participants could be more visually and interactively engaged because everyone has more opportunity to view and contribute to the whiteboard-based discussions.

J. Carlton Collins, CPA, makes a presentation with a Google Jamboard.
J. Carlton Collins, CPA, makes a presentation with a Google Jamboard.


When I first heard about Jamboard technology, I barely raised an eyebrow; after all, interactive whiteboards have been around for about 15 years. However, seeing my first Jamboard in action changed my mind. It helps transform remote attendees from casual viewers to interactive collaborators.

The Jamboard provides useful features that transcend traditional whiteboard capabilities, such as the ability to place internet browser windows on it, play video clips, convert text to handwriting, share files, share live video feeds, capture and share screens, and use shape-recognition drawing tools. Coupled with Google's Limes Audio add-on acoustical technology, the Jamboard allows remote participants (including large groups of connected meeting rooms) to hear one another more clearly, almost as if everyone were in the same room.

You can try the Jamboard for free by downloading the app to your touchscreen-enabled iPad, smartphone, or other Android or Apple OS devices. The experience is not quite as impressive on smaller-size devices, but almost all the same Jamboard functionality is available at your fingertips. Presented below is the same Jamboard frame displayed in the picture above, as displayed on my iPad using the free app.

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The Jamboard has 8 GBs of RAM and includes a wide-angle HD video camera, down-firing speakers, and built-in microphones. (Down firing means that the speaker system's subwoofers are aimed at the ground so the sound bounces off the ground and makes the sound feel more authentic, as if you were listening in person rather than through a speaker system.) The product offers Wi-Fi (802.11ac 2x2) and 1 GB ethernet connectivity. The board's ports include one USB-C port, two USB-A ports, and an HDMI port. The device's touchscreen action is powered by 16 cameras, positioned throughout the Jamboard, which respond to your fingers, stylus pens, and erasers. The stylus pens and erasers do not contain batteries, so they are lightweight and won't die during your meeting. For more information on the Jamboard, visit gsuite.google.com.

Microsoft offers the Surface Hub, a similar interactive whiteboard. Sizes are 55 inches ($8,999) or 84 inches ($21,999) as of July 2018. Both units have 8 GBs of RAM and 128 GB solid-state drives, and are based on Intel Core i5 chipsets. They feature two infrared sensors, microphones, two wide-angle cameras, two front-facing speakers, two powered stylus pens, and a wireless keyboard. You can download a free "preview" version of the Microsoft Whiteboard app from the Microsoft Store, a screenshot of which is pictured below.

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The free Whiteboard app requires Windows 10 and is recommended for touchscreen devices. For more information on the Surface Hub, visit click.linksynergy.com.


About the author

J. Carlton Collins (carlton@asaresearch.com) is a technology consultant, a conference presenter, and a JofA contributing editor.

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