After much fanfare, and with promises to kill off Skype, Amazon’s new video calling app Chime has landed with a soft “meh.” Buzz around the new service from the last tech giant to enter the video conferencing field started long before it was even confirmed as under construction. Yet, after years of watching and learning as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and their ilk defined and redefined video calling, Amazon has played it safe and delivered a rather conventional service.
It has all the functions a small-to-medium business will need to impress clients and redesign internal communications, but it goes no further than any existing platform, and even comes up short in some areas.
Backed by so large and genuinely innovative a company as Amazon, there’s hope that Chime will evolve into the monster we had hoped for, but while it pleads patience from the video calling world, those small-to-medium businesses just get more and more comfortable with the products they’re already using.
From what we can see, Chime isn’t a Skype killer, it isn’t even a Skype scarer.
Hassle-Free Video Calling with Chime
To be fair, Amazon seems to have had a modest goal in mind when in created Chime. It launched its new app with the slogan “Frustration free online meetings”, which translates to single-click meeting invites, a slick user interface, and neat little extras like the ability to mute noisy callers, easily share screens, and alert people to the fact you’re running late. It also has an automated meeting system which calls the user when it is time to get together, rather than having them log on manually. All of this is great, but it would feel even better were it not such a hassle to get started with Chime.
Even if you’ve already downloaded the app–and you’ll need to, even if you’re joining as an account-free guest–you have to navigate no less than three login screens just to open the platform. There’s an initial screen prompt to type in your email, then a second asking if you’d like to login with Amazon, and then a third asking for your email again, this time with a password and the promise of actual entry to the app. In an age of browser-based video calling and direct WebRTC links that take a user to a chat room in seconds, Chime’s system is both horribly inefficient and confusing. Even Skype allows anonymous instant access nowadays.
Once you’re inside the app, however, things do move smoothly, even if the features are a little lacking.
Amazon Chime Features? Just the Basics
Chime is strictly for business. There’s no social component to the service at all, a fact reinforced by its restriction of video calls to one-on-one only (if you want to chat with more than one person at a time, you’ll have to upgrade to premium).
That’s fine, but the platform lacks a few features that even modest business platforms possess, like whiteboarding, connections with third-party apps, and video calling for Android smartphones (at the moment, Android users are restricted to audio only).
Still, the visuals and audio are reliable and clear, and the UI operates intuitively by following the familiar drop-down menu layout of most programs. Even the color scheme is attractive.
There’s nothing here, though, that is isn’t being done elsewhere. Take the dreaded Skype for Business as an example. Its service integrates into Office apps, the same way Chime can link with its home services; it offers video calls for up to 250 people, where Chime tops out at 100 in its premium iteration; it links with online calendars just as Chime; and it costs $2 a month, when Chime comes in at $15.
Chime is a fine service, but after the wait, and with the promise the Amazon name brings, it just isn’t spectacular. It’s certainly not a Skype killer. Yet.
The Possibilities of Amazon Chime
Perhaps it will happen in time, but we noticed one glaring omission after Chime’s launch. Where’s the tie-in with Amazon’s existing industry-leading services? Amazon has three dominant prongs to its current service.
On-demand video site Amazon Prime has won Emmys and Golden Globes for its original content, and has 66 million subscribers. Amazon Web Services, which technically houses Chime, dominates the cloud computing, Software-as-a-Service industry and generates billions of dollars each year. And, of course, Amazon is by far the biggest player in the e-commerce sector, accounting for more than 40% of U.S. online retail sales.
So why didn’t its much-anticipated video calling platform build in any functional links to any or all of those success stories? We could have had live-streaming Prime movies simultaneously pumped into our video calls the way newcomers like Airtime and Rabbit deliver. Or we could have had a warehouse of add-ons and APIs to scale and customize business calls. Or at least tidy links directing us to online shopping solutions.
Instead, we got a perfectly functional, conservative video calling platform.
And it may yet come back to haunt Amazon.
Learning from the Amazon Fire Flameout
Amazon should have learned its lesson from the last time it was late to market. We’re only three years removed from the company’s disastrous launch of the Fire smartphone. Coming half a decade after the release of the iPhone and Android services, the Fire hit trouble within months of its introduction as an underwhelming reaction by the public caused it to quickly cut the price of the phone from $200 to 99 cents.
The problem then, as now, was that the product was merely competitive. After giving your competitors a six- or seven-year head start, and your potential customers time enough to get habitually attached to rival products, you need a lot more than “competitive” to earn people’s attention.
Further exacerbating the problem then, as now, was Amazon’s reputation as a pioneer and IT whiz kid. The Fire’s launch gained initial attention as expectations were high, but being perfectly functional is always going to be perceived as a let-down when potential users are counting on getting something remarkable.
And so it is with Chime.
Amazon’s video calling product began picking up tech news headlines before it was even formally announced, but we suspect that goodwill is going to be lost once customers get a few hours into their 30-day free trial.
Perhaps it will mature into something really special, but who is going to wait around for that when they can just get on with business using their existing service?
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