Is the Writing on the Wall for Digital Whiteboards?

T. Banting

Summary Bullets:

  • Without significant development, interactive whiteboards (IWBs) are unlikely to gain traction, as the ability to replicate (albeit digitally) a physical whiteboard lacks business value.
  • IWBs will struggle to gain traction, as app sharing, touch-screen devices, and styluses are more likely to be utilized by many.

In previous articles, we observed that the interactive whiteboard (IWB) market appeared to be dividing into three distinct segments:

  1. High-end video endpoints with multi-touch screens (e.g., Cisco Webex Board);
  2. High-end computing devices augmented with AV hardware (e.g., Microsoft Surface Hub, Windows Collaboration Displays, and Google Jamboard);
  3. All-in-one devices leveraging existing physical whiteboards (e.g., Highfive in partnership with Dolby).

Last Thursday, Microsoft announced the general availability of its Whiteboard app for Windows 10 after its prior preview in December 2017. With the ability to draw, type, add and manipulate images, annotate, recognize shapes and tables, and add sticky notes, Whiteboard can run on numerous stylus-based devices such as Surface Hubs and laptops today, with iOS support planned in the future.

Although IWBs may prove beneficial for annotating existing content (such as digital X-rays and network diagrams), most offer little better content creation capability than that of a physical whiteboard. With the exception of exemplars such as Google Jamboard (a $4,999 IWB with software capabilities currently in advance of Microsoft’s Whiteboard app), IWBs are likely to become digital white elephants in meeting rooms until their underlying software is vastly improved. Following its launch of Cisco Spark Board (now rebranded Cisco Webex Board) in January 2017, Cisco has made improvements to usability, management, and language support and added WiFi connectivity and markup to presentations; however, Webex Board falls short in whiteboarding features, and the vendor will have to work hard to develop its software to maintain momentum in this unique field.

Furthermore, Microsoft has recently publicized that it is working with partners such as Avocor and Sharp to bring Windows Collaboration Displays to market within the year. Incorporating a high-resolution, multi-touch display, Windows Collaboration Displays allow users to connect a PC and leverage integrated cameras, microphones, speakers, and a stylus to collaborate with colleagues. However, partners will need to offer significant differentiation to that of Microsoft’s own hardware, particularly as the vendor recently introduced the new compact Surface Go, with plans to replace the original 2015 Surface Hub with the Surface Hub 2 in 2019.

With a plethora of vendors demonstrating IWBs at InfoComm 2018 and other trade shows this year, it will be interesting to see how many stand the test of time. That said, how many organizations are likely to replace cost-effective laptops with significantly more expensive touch and stylus-enabled devices?

In the meantime, we suggest that organizations should avoid IWBs unless a specific use case is clearly identified since a significant upfront investment is required along with an ongoing subscription, particularly as simply screen-sharing whiteboard apps from a mobile device may be a more viable alternative.

What do you think?

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