This interview is part of VC Daily’s Future of Video Conferencing interview series, in which we talk to industry leaders to find out how video conferencing is changing their industries and to explore their ideas about the future of video conferencing and technology.
Wei Liu is CEO of the company DTEN, makers of interactive digital whiteboards that allow collaborative, wire-free annotation, demonstration, and sharing. Liu believes that good digital whiteboarding technology can make a video conference even more like an in-person meeting by allowing users to interact with content as if they were in the same room with the other participants.
VC Daily: Why do I need a digital whiteboard in my video conference? What information does it convey that I can’t get from a face-to-face conversation?
Liu: The best technologies recognize that nothing can replace the impact and effectiveness of the face-to-face conversation. The digital whiteboard provides new and innovative opportunities for users to keep the face-to-face connection, bridging the gap, digitally, across time and place.
If you prefer the process of whiteboarding or need to share documents in real-time during meetings, digital whiteboarding is an ideal solution. Digital whiteboarding is not limited to typical whiteboard activities, such as writing and drawing. It also allows screen sharing and annotation, which are the digital versions of providing printed materials for colleagues during the meeting and writing comments on work directly.
During typical in-person workplace meetings, we rely on using tools such as laser pointers or visually gesturing, pointing, or referencing printed materials to communicate. When you are in a remote meeting, what do you do to maintain the same level of effective communication and collaboration? Digital whiteboarding is the solution that gives you that, enabling everyone in the meeting to connect and participate on the same content, at the same time.
It’s also not just for remote meetings. Used for in-person meetings, digital whiteboarding has many advantages over the traditional whiteboard. For example, you don’t have to take pictures of the whiteboard to record work done during the meeting. With a digital whiteboard, you can press a button to email all of the content to the meeting participants.
Digital whiteboarding is the ‘whiteboard 2.0’–it provides benefits for any meeting, whether it’s in-person, face-to-face, or remotely via video conference.
VC Daily: If I’m calling in to a meeting where the host has a DTEN Board but I don’t, can I interact with the display?
Liu: Yes, you can still interact with DTEN Board even if you aren’t using one during the meeting. Just think of DTEN Board as a large-sized iPhone. You can use your phone, your TV, or your tablet to interact with the DTEN Board being shared by the DTEN Board owner. Information can be shared more freely than a typical TV screen display, with meeting participants being able to whiteboard and write or draw directly on the DTEN Board, which cannot be done with a typical TV screen. Meeting participants can interact with the DTEN Board using their phone or tablet to join in whiteboarding, although with limited screen size depending on the display. The DTEN Board offers more functionality than typical audio/visual TV screens, and a better user experience than trying to digitize meetings ad-hoc via your phone or tablet.
VC Daily: There seems to be renewed interest in the digital whiteboard as a technology, with Microsoft and Cisco both releasing new devices over the past year. The key to these new versions seems to be simplicity, which leads to the question: how do you provide a high-end, feature-rich product without alienating the end user, especially those with little IT literacy?
Liu: What does it take to set up for the best meeting experience possible? The meeting room environment requires an extremely simple user experience, from the actual room space to the technology tools we use to facilitate the meeting. We don’t have the time to become IT experts to figure out the tech setup during the meeting. At DTEN, we follow the “three-second rule.” Usually, we give products about a three-second learning curve before we give up on it and switch to something else. People should be able to learn how to use the DTEN Board in three seconds with our intuitive system and familiar technology features.
What are the features users really need in meetings? It’s impossible to include them all and keep the technology simple, so we have focused our solutions on the most important key features people use every day. We perfect those features in order to provide the most function in the simplest way possible. At DTEN, we think about simplicity all the time and we study user behaviors and expectations all the time.
VC Daily: The largest, 84-inch version of the DTEN Board is capable of 4K display. Given that current broadband capacities can struggle to present in 4K over a video conference, is this just an in-room feature?
Liu: The DTEN board use case is a little different from regular TV, where you sit some distance from the screen. With a DTEN board, as you write on the whiteboard, sometimes there are areas where you may want clearer images. That’s where the 4K feature is a valuable asset. The touch display normally lasts more than five years, however, given the current speed of technology development, especially the 5G network, you may want to invest ahead in a display that can handle more pixels.
VC Daily: Your product has digitized traditional peripherals with the smart pen and the eraser, but what will the next generation of user interface look like? Will gesture and facial recognition controls ever become standard?
Liu: Looking back in time, when we talk about delivering information, human beings have used the pen for thousands of years to communicate with others. Yet voice communication is perhaps the most effective form of communication, especially for delivering a lot of information. Gestures are used in certain circumstances to add meaning (like shaking hands to show friendliness). Faces are used to recognize someone or provide subtle, nonverbal impressions and cues. The best communication happens when these can all be combined and used together, rather than substituting one for another.
Facial recognition and many other AI-powered features are becoming standard in digital communications and will be included in the next generation of the DTEN board. DTEN will keep following the “three-second rule,” designing all of our features to simplify user interaction and integration to deliver real-world benefits to our customers. We design our products for how people want technology to work for them in real-world scenarios.
VC Daily: How will devices like the DTEN Board evolve to incorporate augmented reality, virtual reality, or 3D presentations?
Liu: The first question we ask ourselves when deciding on new technology to add is, ‘How does this new technology simplify the user experience and add value for the user?’ We believe the best video conference experiences are the ones that connect you face-to-face. DTEN is working hard to make the process of the video conference “disappear.” In the future, we will seamlessly interconnect via completely integrated technology platforms across all digital streams, whether that be traditional digital, augmented reality, virtual reality, etc. There are some augmented reality and virtual reality features we are experimenting with, but we won’t release any new features until we are confident that the feature will continue to simplify the user experience, add real benefits to the user, and enhance the face-to-face connection. All of our features must meet these standard use cases.
VC Daily: How does video conferencing help a startup company–what advantage does a startup in today’s digital society have over a startup 20 years ago? How does video conferencing help with employee recruitment, finding investors, and client engagement?
Liu: Compared with startups 20 years ago, startups today can be more cost-efficient and can explore the global market using the power of modern communication tools, including video conferencing. Startups can run 24 hours with employees in different time zones and serve their employees and their customers better by utilizing video communications tools. Startups today have the advantage of powerful technology tools they can take advantage of to grow and scale their business faster. Technology empowers startups to compete with larger corporate companies.
VC Daily: As an expert in video presentation, what impact do you feel the size of smartphone screens is having on personal and business video conferencing use? Wearable devices have even smaller screens–is there a solution, or will we always have to sacrifice image size for convenience?
Liu: We are sacrificing image size for convenience now, but I don’t think it will last long. When there is demand, there will be supply. It will just take some time. Google Glass, Magic Leap, and the Microsoft Hololens are all good attempts to deal with this problem. BYOD is another kind of attempt to solve this problem, in which you bring your own devices and utilize the infrastructure in the workplace.
I would recommend just being patient; human beings are smart (most of the time).