But the coronavirus, in a matter of weeks, turned a work tool into the backbone of our social lives. And as millions of people participate in virtual birthday parties, religious events, school and college classes, the tech industry is racing to win over a new and rapidly growing user base — even though it’s unclear how long people will need or want to live out so much of their lives on camera.
“We may have accelerated five to seven years’ worth of adoption behavior,” said Wayne Kurtzman, research director for social and collaboration at IDC. “Everyone was forced to do a seven-year plan in two weeks.”
It’s become the tech industry’s next big battleground, and one where it isn’t that lonely at the top.
“I see room for multiple vendors at the top of the conferencing space,” said Kurtzman. “They will each serve very real purposes in the market, but the winners will be whoever can be the easiest to use, the easiest to get value with, and the easiest to integrate to other applications needed in and outside the workplace.”
Zoom carved out its place in a crowded market using a “freemium” model — with no fee for meetings up to 40 minutes and 100 participants — betting that users would convert to subscriptions thanks to its superior user experience. While that strategy has worked well so far, the free offerings from Google and Facebook could potentially siphon off some of the non-business user base.
“Video is going to be used more, but it will also be overused more. The trade-offs of being always-on and connected apply just as much or more to video,” said Adam Preset, senior analyst for digital workplace at research firm Gartner. “For some, a long day of video meetings at work is going to make video happy hour with friends much less enticing.”
“All video vendors ultimately have security issues they need to resolve,” said Preset. “Short term fixes without the right motivation can be just damage control. There’s really no rest if a vendor wants to retain its customer’s trust and preserve its own reputation.”
While Zoom appears to be holding steady so far, Preset says the effects of new rivals with deep pockets may take a while to play out. “One signal will be your next colleague, friend or family member who invites you to meet in something other than Zoom,” he said.
But the uncertainty of how long the pandemic and lockdowns will last, and whether the video boom can outlast them, might give some companies pause before going all-in.
“In enterprise, the video battle has been raging for some time between a few of the most well-known technology companies,” said Preset. “Now what we’re seeing is a spillover as video calls become more necessary and more prominent for consumers. It’s risky to join this fray right now.”