Videoconferencing can be a great business tool. It lets you meet virtually with coworkers and clients no matter where you or they are. It can reduce travel costs while maintaining those all-important person-to-person connections.
The iPad—especially the iPad 2 and the most recent model, with their front- and rear-facing cameras—has proven to be a great videoconferencing tool. The newest iPad raises the bar even higher with its high-quality Retina display, which makes video meetings seem that much more immediate.
Many videoconferencing services also have iPad apps, but three in particular stand out: FuzeBox’s Fuze Meeting HD, Citrix Online’s GoToMeeting, and Cisco WebEx Meetings. All three deliver the same core functionality, enabling you to conduct and participate in meetings from your iPad. But beyond that basic concept, they differ significantly.
FUZE MEETING HD
FuzeBox offers a 14-day free trial of Fuze Meeting HD, but after that you must pay to conduct meetings (www.fuzebox.com). Plans start at $15 per month per user; however, the base-level Fuze Share plan is limited to 15 meeting attendees. At the high end, the Fuze Business plan accommodates up to 100 simultaneous meeting participants and allows businesses to brand the interface; it costs $69 per month per user. All Fuze plans offer a 20 percent discount if paid on an annual basis.
The free Fuze Meeting HD app is exceptionally easy to use. You can start a meeting directly from within the app and invite others to attend. You can share content and use the iPad camera to videoconference with other participants. Fuze Meeting HD can call participants to join the audio portion of the meeting; it can deliver the audio via Voice over IP from within the application, or you can use Skype instead.
There are a few things that I particularly like about Fuze Meeting HD. The laser pointer feature puts a glowing red dot wherever your finger is on the iPad, making it easy to direct the attention of attendees to specific areas of the content. Fuze Meeting HD also makes it easy to turn other attendees into presenters, allowing them to share content and direct the meeting too.
I also like Fuze’s integration with other iPad apps and cloud storage; you can press the Home button on the iPad and leave Fuze Meeting HD to access content from Box, Dropbox, and other supported services, and share it with the active Fuze Meeting with a simple tap. You can also share photos and videos from the iPad’s photo library.
Like Fuze Meeting HD, GoToMeeting (www.gotomeeting.com) requires that you have an account before it lets you host a meeting. GoToMeeting offers a 30-day free trial, but after that the service costs $49 per month—or $468 for an annual plan. (There’s also a little-publicized “personal” plan that costs $39 per month—with a 25 percent discount if paid annually, bringing the cost down to $348.) Even at the paid level, you’re limited to 15 meeting attendees.
The GoToMeeting iPad app makes it easy to join a meeting: Just enter the meeting ID, your name, and an email address. You can use the microphone and speakers on the iPad for your audio, or call in on the provided conference line from a phone. Once in the meeting, you just tap the video-camera icon at the top to join a videoconference.
GoToMeeting utilizes more of the iPad’s display to show the shared content. But when you open a videoconference, the screen shrinks to make room for a strip across the top displaying the video participants. You can drag the bar to make the videoconferencing section bigger or smaller.
Unfortunately, GoToMeeting’s iPad app doesn’t have any tools to let you launch or conduct a meeting from the tablet itself. In other words, you can participate in meetings, but you can’t host them.
CISCO WEBEX MEETINGS
Like Fuze Meeting HD, Cisco offers a 14-day free trial (www.webex.com). After the trial period, you can subscribe to a $19 per month plan with WebEx (discounted to $180 if paid annually), but that plan is limited to only eight participants.
The $19 per month plan is much cheaper than GoToMeeting’s bargain plan, but for just a bit more money Fuze Meeting allows up to 15 attendees instead of just eight. WebEx offers a plan that supports up to 25 users for $49 per month, or $468 paid annually.
Videoconferencing from the iPad with WebEx isn’t as intuitive or as simple as it should be. You can’t, for example, view the participant list or enable videoconferencing from the tablet; the host has to enable both.
The WebEx iPad app is capable of initiating and hosting meetings and videoconference sessions, but it’s a bit of a pain. The app has a button for signing in, but logging in requires an email address and password; make sure to set that up on the WebEx site in advance.
Once I was able to log in to the iPad app, starting a meeting was less than intuitive. After tapping around, I finally figured out that I just had to tap the plus-sign button (+) to add a new meeting, and then tap the Start button. Once the session had launched, I was able to invite other attendees and videoconference from the iPad. However, I couldn’t find any way to add or share content from the device. All I could do was pass off the presenter role to someone using a PC so they could share content with the attendees.
Videoconferencing is respectably smooth, but the desktop content you’re sharing can be a bit slow to refresh. The presenter has to pause for two or three seconds after changing slides or moving to a new webpage to let iPad attendees catch up.
These three are not the only options available. For one-on-one videoconferences, Apple’s FaceTime is an obvious and straightforward choice—but it doesn’t work over cellular connections and it requires that both users be connected over a Wi-Fi network. But for bigger meetings, any one of the other three will do the trick. If you’re hosting, Fuze Meeting stands out as an impressive platform for online meetings and videoconferencing; it’s easy to use and cost effective. The nice thing is that these apps are free, so you can have them all on your iPad just in case.