You knew they had to give it a whirl sometime, didn't you? Today Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO, news, filings) rolled out consumer telepresence, which it calls 'ūmi' complete with that bar over the u just to make you think you don't know how it's really pronounced. All you need to do is spend $599 on the equipment (video camera, set top box, and a remote control), plus $24.99/month for the cloud service to route calls etc, and you can make video calls from your HDTV over your broadband connection - just like a CEO. By all accounts, it's quite an experience. And it doesn't have a prayer of catching on. Yet.
That's not to say Cisco's move isn't a smart one. They're trying to create a new market, and to do that you have to put something out there. When Cisco's telepresence software for corporations came out, it was hopelessly out of reach. But it stretched the market, and today telepresence actually looks viable and is on the radar screens of corporations all over the globe.
But what it will never do by itself is replace the phone. Honestly, telepresence is a rather personal experience, you don't do it with strangers. Can you imagine having to answer a telemarketer in 1080p video, from a single location in your house that must be kept presentable - turning off the ball game in the process? But perhaps it will replace the landline phone one day, while working in concert with the family collection of cell phones.
No, telepresence for consumers is for special conversations. Grandparents and grandchildren. Job interviews. Customer service calls where the tech can see the broken computer. Reality TV appearances. Speed Dating. Those I can see. But for $600 and $25/month during difficult economic times? Only the rich technophiles will go for that initially, and there's a critical mass one has to reach.
But it's a start! And think of all that bandwidth...
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