The Smartphone Becomes a SMARTphone

13 May 2015

What we mean by "mobility" continues to change (or move). Smartphones initially allowed us to take our desktop applications (such as email, social networks, games, even web searches) with us. Slowly, the smartphone began replacing our items and devices including calendars, maps, pagers, mirrors, and more. Will the smartphone replace our computers and networks?

What is most fascinating is how the smartphone is enabling totally new approaches to old problems. These devices are so robust and powerful that we are solving problems in entirely new ways. For example, rather than using a (mobile) phone to call a cab company, the Uber app virtually hails (and pays) for the ride. The largest taxi company in the world doesn't have a dispatch number.

SMART took an entirely new approach with dry-erase whiteboards.

Drawings are a pretty effective way of communicating and collaborating. There's plenty of evidence of this back to cave drawings or my elementary school that equipped teachers with transparency projectors. Just about every classroom and conference room has a white/chalk board. We communicate and collaborate with visual aids.

The whiteboard has proven to be a challenge for distributed teams. There are multiple approaches that range from photographing the board to replacing the board with technical alternatives. SMART's kapp line is the first approach that actually maintains the basic, low-tech whiteboard form factor (not "ink-like" but ink) experience.

Digitizing an analog board has numerous challenges. SMART knows this because it's been in this business through multiple generations of technology. It is easy to create an electronic white-board, but connecting it to network and email systems involves specialized equipment, additional administration, user training, and introduces several security issues. The board must be intuitive to use, yet have credentials to IT systems and ensure private content is kept private.

kapp digitizes and shares what's on the board with users in any location without much technology at all. The board is not particularly expensive, and does not require a LAN or WAN connection. Its primary tool for security is a felt eraser.

kapp is essentially a smartphone accessory. We often quip that the smartphone is a supercomputer in the pocket, so let's put it to use. The modern smartphone has everything that's needed to make sharing a kapp session intuitive. SMART provides an an app that utilizes back-end services in the Amazon cloud. The app and basic unlimited service are free.

When a user wants to share the content electronically, all it takes is a quick Bluetooth pairing of kapp and smartphone. Whatever is on the board can be shared via URL. By using a BYO-SMARTphone approach, IT gets out of the networking and security of whiteboards business. There are no accounts to create/maintain. Installation requires just a few wall screws and a standard power outlet.

The 42" kapp runs less than $1,000. It can capture single or multiple (session) images. The kapp has been available for several months, and the company just announced its kapp IQ which uses e-ink on a 4K video display.

The main advantage of the kapp IQ is multi-way collaboration. Remote participants (dozens) can also draw on the board. It can also be used as a general purpose room display. By combining the kapp IQ with a laptop and SMART's Meeting Pro software several classic SMART features are available including touch-back and ink-back. The kapp IQ 55" runs about $4,000.

One of the big consumers of kapp boards are hotels, a group that did not previously buy high-end electronic whiteboards. Hotels often rent meeting rooms with low-tech whiteboards and flipcharts. They are discovering that kapp enables them to deliver a more premium service without increasing their technical support costs.

It's a nice story about whiteboards, but there's a bigger story about SMART because it's effectively disrupting its own business. Potentially these kapp boards will interfere with SMART's other electronic boards and video solutions. Major functional gaps exist, but there is some overlap. However, SMART is unlocking a much bigger market with its kapp line. The price and simplicity are so much more attractive that SMART expects much broader and wider use cases such as airport clubs, huddle rooms, even homes.

kapp reminds us how powerful smartphones are. They will potentially replace computers in numerous products. It may not be long until the smartphone completely replaces the desktop computer as Microsoft recently demonstrated at its Ignite conference.

Dave Michels, TalkingPointz.