A video conferencing unit walked into a bar one day

Sitting in my living room is a pretty big TV.  I’m not sure how big it is but big enough that you can comfortably watch it from the other end of the room.  Every day I get an email about some new product that will help me use this big TV more, to improve my quality of live, to help me be more sedentary (like I need that)!  Google TV, AppleTV, TiVo, blah, blah, blah.  For someone who watches TV about an hour a week this is pretty irrelevant to me.

Anyway, one day this mob called Cisco decided that my TV should be the hub for me to communicate with and the release Umi (You Me if you like).  Now, apart from the fact that they will inevitably bring out soppy ads showing a 2 year old talking to his grandma, I like the idea.  I don’t like the pricing model (US$600 up front and US$25 per month) but the idea is definitely interesting.  The fact that today it cannot connect to corporate video conferencing systems or UC platforms like Microsoft OCS/Lync is another gripe I have but I’m sure Cisco must be planning to change that.

My family is pretty connected.  All four of us have laptops with integrated webcams.  We use OCS and Skype to communicate when we are traveling and stay pretty connected.  This connectivity works for us because it is portable, it is mobile (WiFi and 3G) and it is the hub of our lives.

Umi is the exact opposite.  I have to be at home.  I have to be in front of the TV and I have to have fixed broadband (who’s going to connect the TV to 3G anyway?).  As I said, the exact opposite of how we and most people we know now consume media and connectivity.

While Umi can integrate with Google Talk (which is essentially free), Umi is not.  I can’t imagine my elderly mother using Umi, I can’t imagine most people using it in its current form and with its current price.

A case of very interesting technology looking for a purpose.  Whatever happens to Umi and Cisco’s business model for it, this is the start of a change in the video conferencing market.