Media

Cisco launches new AI-powered and hybrid event features for Webex


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Cisco today unveiled updates across its Webex portfolio of communications products, including an integrated asynchronous camera feature, AI-powered sound, video enhancements, and a management service for hybrid in-person and virtual events. The company’s upgrades are designed to power events and meetings “at scale” while maintaining interoperability with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and other third-party meeting platforms.

Headwinds from the pandemic have driven the value of the global videoconferencing market in 2021 to an estimated $6.03 billion. Sixty percent of respondents to an Owl Labs survey reported participating in video meetings more often in 2020 than in 2019, a bigger rise than other workplace staples like email saw year-over-year. Dovetailing with this, hybrid events are expected to continue to have a presence in work life, with 79% of companies expecting to host events that include a virtual attendance option, according to Martech.

“Technology has many powers, and the greatest of all is its ability to connect people and level the playing field for so many across the globe,” Cisco security and collaboration executive VP and general manager Jeetu Patel said in a statement. “Our new Webex innovations mark a significant step forward in helping our customers unlock the potential of their hybrid workforce — enabling them to collaborate in new ways and drive [an] inclusive experience.”

AI and hybrid work

Cisco is rolling out “AI-powered audio intelligence” in Webex, leveraging an AI algorithm to optimize all participants’ voices during meetings. The setting equalizes voices regardless of how close they’re to their devices, automatically differentiating intended speech from background noise.

Another AI-powered feature, People Focus, will be available in December. It will provide “better clarity” and “optimized visuals” of in-room attendees’ facial gestures and body language, Cisco says. Additional camera-related enhancements coming in early 2022 will further improve the interface in meeting rooms, including showing conference room participants in individual boxes on-screen — regardless of which meeting platform they use.

In related news, Webex Assistant, Cisco’s virtual meeting tool, now supports French, German, Spanish, and Japanese in addition to English. In August, it gained the ability to translate closed captions from English into more than 100 languages with a paid add-on. And starting this week, developers can work with partners to design custom commands for Webex Assistant running on Cisco’s Webex devices such as desktop cameras, headsets, and conference room phones.

Vidcast, an asynchronous communication service, also joins the list of new Webex features. Currently in beta at Vidcast.io ahead of integration with the Webex App in Spring 2022, it provides the ability to record, watch, comment, and react to meeting clips on-demand.

Meanwhile, Webex’s new Whiteboarding tool enables users to create, find, edit, and share whiteboards with anybody, not excluding people outside their organization. Users can annotate using any device — mobile, tablet, laptop — in addition to Webex devices.

Webex also now features Collaboration Insights, offering personalized details like the top ten people a user collaborates with weekly, new colleague titles, and more. Two complementary capabilities — Well-being and Cohesion — in the previously announced People Insights tab give teams a view into anonymous work time patterns, sentiment ratings, and focus time goals. Exclusively for Webex Suite customers, there’s Thrive Reset, a collection of wellness topics, and a gallery where users can upload photos. It’s based on research showing that it takes 60 to 90 seconds to course-correct from stress, Cisco says, and designed to help users “focus on breathing, reflect on what they’re grateful for, reframe problems, or simply stand up and stretch.”

“[W]hen we provide insights … to an individual, the individual owns the data, not the organization because we don’t believe that without your explicit permission, you’d want to have your boss see that,” Patel told VentureBeat in a previous interview regarding Webex’s new monitoring features. “Engagement should not be measured based on having a judgment on someone saying, ‘I’m judging that you look sad, and therefore I’m going to do certain things’ … at that point in time, in my mind, you could cross a boundary where there’s more bad that can come out of that than good … There’s a fine line between ‘This is super productive’ and ‘We can’t do this because it violates my privacy, or it’s just outright creepy.’”

Events, integrations, and devices

Following Cisco’s acquisitions of Socio Labs and Slido earlier this year, the company unveiled an expanded Webex Events product targeting enterprises hosting hybrid events. Management capabilities spanning badging and printing for ticketing, monetization, and networking are available, and customers can now host events via Webex Webinars with Slido’s polling, quizzing, and Q&A technology up to 10,000 attendees (in webinar mode) or 100,000 (in webcast mode) in size.

Today, Cisco also announced its 60-plus new partner integrations to Webex including Smartsheet, Hacker Rank, Thrive Reset, Miro, and Mural.

Against this backdrop, new Webex devices are coming to market — among them the Webex Desk Mini. The Webex Desk Mini, which comes in a range of colors, features a 15.6-inch, 1080p interactive display; a 64-degree HD camera; a full-range speaker; and a background noise removal mic array. Meanwhile, the new Webex Board Pro sports dual 4K cameras, directional audio, two active styluses, and a choice of a 55- or 75-inch display.

Webex Desk Mini will be available to order in early 2022 for $1,695. Existing Webex enterprise customers will receive the “cloud promo” price of $999. The Webex Board Pro will launch in available in November, priced at $11,995 (55 inches) and $19,995 (75 inches).

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