For a decade, tech addicts and prognosticators have seen a Skype killer in every new video calling startup to emerge, while the Microsoft giant has continued to dominate largely unharmed.
Google Hangouts can match its free group calling function, WhatsApp recently added video calling to build on its superior instant messaging service, WebEx and GoToMeeting are every bit the business tool Skype for Business is, and Slack put such a scare into Microsoft that it considered buying the app before instead trying to imitate it.
Despite all that, Skype still claims 74 million active users, who spend almost half an hour on an average call, and help it generate more than $400 million in annual revenue even though casual users get even group video calls for free.
Now, however, a real threat has perhaps emerged, and it looks less like David vs. Goliath than like Goliath vs. Goliath. That’s because Amazon Chime is going to be huge.
Chime Delivers Beyond Expectation
A couple of weeks prior to Christmas 2016, we at VC Daily followed the clues some very diligent tech observers had uncovered to speculate on Amazon’s foray into video calling.
We had a list of features we hoped the software-as-a-service end of the ecommerce giant would include, should such a platform come to fruition. Well, in February Amazon duly rolled out Chime, and it includes just about everything you could, and we certainly did, ask for in a video conferencing platform.
It allows screen sharing, chat rooms, group calls, recorded meetings, and personalized URLs for one-touch meeting admittance even without an established account. It is cloud based, available on all devices including iOS and Android smartphones, and lets you switch between devices in real time. It contains scheduling and meeting reminders, and every member of the meeting can remotely mute every other member to reduce background noise and other distraction. It’s also compatible with in-room video conferencing tech from vendors like Polycom.
The only real drawback is that you need a subscription to make anything more than a one-on-one call, but the top tier costs only $15 a month. It’s all backed by Amazon’s very deep pockets, so this is one newcomer that won’t be forced into financial retreat quickly.
And with a little imagination, Chime could even come to grant our wilder wishes for a video platform of the next decade.
Video Calling eCommerce
Chime didn’t deliver on the more advanced items on our December wish list. We’d hoped it could leverage the full spectrum of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) product range, push beyond the visual elements of a remote meeting, and get creative with some IoT functions.
That sort of room control and integrated physical services are probably too much to expect out of a launch platform, but there is one other area where Chime could make some real innovations.
AWS is, of course, a part of the wider Amazon online retail juggernaut, the one that accounts for more than 40% of all U.S. online retail revenue. It is impossible not to ponder what an in-house Amazon video conferencing portal could do to change the way we shop online.
There’s the obvious answer of adding real-time customer service, but beyond that there’s capacity to let groups of video callers navigate their own way through the Amazon catalog, or to introduce a public video chat forum where smaller retailers could speak directly to customers about their products, and customers could chat among themselves, effectively launching real-time peer reviews.
It could introduce remote checkout assistants to aid with payment, shipping, and account creation options and reduce the amount of product abandoned in digital shopping carts.
That’s certainly something Skype couldn’t offer.
Amazon Chime for Business
The more immediate battleground to be fought over by Skype and Chime, however, will be the boardroom and the office.
And Skype isn’t exactly a sitting duck. Microsoft’s recent acquisition of LinkedIn gives it an obvious way to pair professional networking with video calling, while its one-touch Skype Room Systems, which launch from a tablet, make it as simple to use as Chime’s promised WebRTC-style one click links.
While that fight for enterprise-level attention will be pivotal, it does place Amazon very much in Skype’s territory. On the surface Chime seems to have all the functionality needed to provide professional grade meetings, everything except the existing customers Skype and its established rivals already service.
It would appear far better for Amazon, and potentially for the broader video calling public, that it instead focus on its own home turf and offering something new in ecommerce.
Why be the latest video conferencing option for business, when you can be the first VC platform dedicated to the largest online retailer in the country?