Consider the irony. With laptops, tablets and smartphones, employees have better tools for collaborating when they are on the go then "collaborative" conference rooms that often feature a voice-only conference phone, a projector that often struggles to display the right resolution, and a whiteboard or flip chart.
The latter two, in particular, are analog stalwarts, leaving us to capture the sparks of inspiration with smartphone cameras. As they say in the infomercials, "There's gotta be a better way." Indeed, the flip chart and white board are becoming digital with the help of a company with deep expertise in collaborative writing space.
The 42" SMART kapp looks the part of a digital flip chart. The device allows up to five people (250 when used with a premium subscription service) to follow along with what is developing on its surface. In addition, participants can generate a PDF that can be e-mailed anywhere.
The SMART kapp is also interesting from a technology architecture perspective. For a $900 device with a futuristic appearance, it is relatively low-tech. All the processing is done through the app and the cloud. Rather than use Wi-Fi, it pairs with a single smartphone or tablet using a Bluetooth app. From there, any other participants are mailed a Web address that lets them folllow along in a standard browser. The link can also be protected with a PIN if using the company's premium subscription service. Once the meeting is over and the person leaves the room, the link is broken and a new one is established if the next meeting uses the board, so there's little concern about people digitally eavesdropping on meetings to which they're not invited. (Not that you wanted any of Dave the receptionist's birthday cake anyway, right?)
When compared with some of the company's more sophisticated digital whiteboards that are professionally mounted and can weigh up to 400 lbs., the SMART kapp is only about 30 lbs. and can be easily wheeled where it's needed. Perhaps best of all, it uses standard dry erase markers. On the other hand, communication is only one-way, so there's no way for even a local conference participant to add their scribbles to the mix without getting up and grabbing the marker. And unlike a real digital flip chart, multiple pages can't be displayed simultaneously in the room without a number of large screens to display the PDFs.
All told, the $900 device seems to be a clever, simple option for sharing the fruits of a brainstorming or planning session, one that would be complemented by a capable video chat option for a remote participant. SMART Technologies says that its size is perfect for individual offices and "huddle rooms" but those wanting something that is closer to the size of a traditional conference room whiteboard should anticipate a much larger model hinted at for 2015.