By Rob Enderle
HP was once one of the leading innovators in high-end video conferencing and collaboration with its Halo video conferencing effort. It was the first to wed high resolution video conferencing to a service that could link two sites at opposite ends of the world in a seamless experience. Halo successfully addressed two of the biggest problems at the time (video quality and ease-of-use) to create what was a revolutionary offering. However, it failed and was sold to Polycom. Polycom was acquired by Plantronics, which had also been developing market-leading sound solutions for video conferencing rooms. Now, HP has acquired the combined entity which had been renamed Poly.
This gives HP an amazing portfolio of technology it once developed and that led the video conferencing space in terms of quality and ease of use in the 2010s. The technology is arguably the best in office and personal business audio in the marketplace. Since Logitech attempted to buy Poly before HP did (it is closely partnered with HP), the question is: Will HP buy Logitech next, or will Lenovo or Dell pick them up as a hedge against HP?
Let’s talk about all that this week.
This segment has had some interesting hills and valleys, largely because it often overpromises and under-delivers. In the 1960s, AT&T first showcased the technology at the World’s Fair. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the technology was revisited and largely discarded because it was still too expensive and too unrealizable for the home, and employee concerns about being spied on by management pretty much killed it for office use.
In the 1990s, everyone and their brother, including Intel, jumped into the segment and were badly burned because the technology was still too expensive, didn’t interoperate (one video conferencing system couldn’t call another), and was horribly hard to operate. The 2000s were defined by huge leaps in the technology highlighted by the HP Halo system which redefined not only what was possible but how insane the prices were at the time. Again, the market consolidated, and the promise of traveling virtually by default to remote meetings remained unmet.
Recently, far less expensive products like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have come to market and benefitted from the COVID 19 pandemic which forced people to use them. But while costs are now far more reasonable for what is an outstanding video experience, interoperability remains a problem and, pending a resurgence of the pandemic, people are starting to get back on planes to travel rather than video conference again.
What we need is a powerful vendor to drive interoperability standards, and HP could rise to the challenge.
If the other video conferencing suppliers don’t come around to HP’s favoring of them, coupled with addressing Zoom’s issues in terms of enterprise-grade security (Zoom’s weakness plays to HP’s security strengths), Zoom could become the standard for business video communications and the Zoom/HP partnership could drive a level of interoperability unseen since the old AT&T-dominated telecom years.
If HP acquires Logitech, it could finally be the company that brings to market the video conferencing and collaboration solution the market has been waiting for: A solution that’s affordable, interoperable (because the world moved to Zoom), secure and more reliable than anything else likely to come to market.
HP’s acquisition of Poly is a potential game changer for the video collaboration and conferencing space because it may give HP enough intellectual property power to either drive the video conferencing service vendors to reliably and easily interoperate or the market to favor one of them, most likely Zoom, and solve the interoperability problem that way.
In short, with the Poly acquisition, HP gets a stick that may be big enough to whip the solutions providers into interoperability action, effectively saving the market and setting up for what should be the most successful video conferencing effort the world has yet seen.