Slack Uses Video Calling to Fight Microsoft, and Consumers Will Reap the Rewards

Slack may be a new competitor for Microsoft's video calling features.

Everyone loves a celebrity feud.

The rise of social media has taken things beyond the rumor and counter-rumor days of the Jennifer vs. Angelina spat, and let the aggrieved celebs make their anger very public.

There are a whole bunch ofWarning: Explicit Language”-level brouhahas out there from the world of entertainment (especially on Twitter), but the tech world hasn’t had a real blood-feud since the days of Apple vs. Microsoft in the 80s and 90s.

Until Microsoft found a new sparring partner in cloud-based workplace collaboration platform Slack.

The two have taken some jabs at each other, and each has taken a turn imitating the core features of the other. The end result of this to-and-fro has been an improved service for businesses and a far more sophisticated way for the growing U.S. telecommuter workforce to make their mark.

And there’s surely more innovation on the way as Slack fights to stay popular, and Microsoft fights to stay relevant.

Start-Up Vs. Goliath

Slack’s popularity as a chat, messaging, and third-party integration service has shown Microsoft what a new generation of businesses and employees requires. Slack currently attracts 4 million daily active users, from 1.25 million paid subscribers.

What’s more, the average Slack user spends more than 5 hours a day on the service. Understandably envious of that kind of attention, Microsoft thought long and hard about buying the start-up before instead deciding to mimic its workflow.

That move drove the Slack team to take out a full-page ad in the New York Times offering Microsoft some pointed advice on how to please the modern workplace. It made particular reference to partnering with customers to create custom offerings, something a giant like Microsoft is not really designed to achieve.

And Slack didn’t stop there. Just this month it too turned imitator and added video calls to its service. That’s really going to get under Microsoft’s skin because Skype video calling has become one of the flagship components of its business products.

At least for the moment though, Skype is going to retain the advantage when it comes to video calling.

What Has Slack Introduced?

Video calls have been available within Slack for a while. The key to its success has been its smooth integration of third-party apps, including Google Hangouts and Zoom video calling–and Slack has stated those services will remain available.

What’s new is a video chat function built right into Slack.

It’ll offer paid subscribers instant video chat, allowing them to smoothly move from idle to chat to earnest video collaboration whenever the need arises. For telecommuters and remotely constructed teams that’s a godsend, as it adds one more layer of easy communication and fills out the potential of out-of-office employees.

Slack may initially lose out to Skype due to a delay in smartphone compatibility for its new feature, and the fact its service will cater for around half the number of simultaneous group callers: 15.

But it will have an emoji response feature that lets callers comment on what’s being said, or graphically raise their hand to speak, without interrupting the flow of a conversation. And it’s those kinds of creative additions that are going to benefit end users as these two tech darlings continue to butt heads.

What Could We See Next in Video Conference Features?

So, what new ground is left untilled that Slack and Microsoft can use to steal an advantage in their rivalry?

For one, both platforms could make better use of in-call multimedia integration. That doesn’t mean sending a YouTube link to each other via a chat window. It means dedicating space within a call to streaming media from partnered sources like Vimeo, Spotify, and, of course YouTube.

What about a broadcast feature that lets team members tune into a central announcement from a single source, as full VC participants, audio or video only audience members, or maybe even blindly with the aid of rolling instant transcription on the desktop. It’d let people balance communication with ongoing work concerns.

You could even mess with time itself. Will we ever see a rewind function in a video calling platform? One that works like the moveable time bars at the bottom of live streams, which would let latecomers to a meeting, or those taking notes, scroll back to see what was said earlier, before hitting the “live” button and re-joining the conversation proper? Anyone engaged in a trip back in time could be flagged with a status update so other callers don’t try to speak to them live.

It’s features like these and others that will sway the minds of team leaders toward either Slack or Microsoft, and determine who ultimately gets to have the last word and the last laugh in an engrossing tech battle.

Subscribe to VC Daily