Organizing an office full of people on a project can be tough, and it's even more chaotic in the modern workforce, when that group can be meeting from anywhere in the world. To try to bring that to order, companies like Google, Microsoft, and Smart have developed digital whiteboards that use the Cloud to replicate visual brainstorming sessions from afar, and now Cisco is pitching its own version – the Spark Board.
The Spark Board is essentially a huge touchscreen that can be mounted on the wall or a stand, with a 4K display and options for 55-inch or 70-inch versions. Like its competitors, its primary function is as a digital whiteboard that can connect to others around the globe, so whatever is drawn or written on one is mirrored in real-time (or is that "real-time"?) on all other connected Spark Boards.
Besides worldwide whiteboard jam sessions, a 4K camera and 12-microphone array allow for video conferencing, with the option to have both video and the whiteboard running at the same time. Screens can be shared from a connected PC, Mac, tablet or phone via a new system dubbed "ultrasound wireless pairing." While that may seem like an odd choice over something like Bluetooth, the reasoning appears to be a security measure: ultrasound has a short range, so it can typically only be accessed from within the same room. If you have an account on the Spark app, the company says any Spark Board in the world can recognize and greet you as you approach it.
The Spark Board integrates with Cisco's virtual collaboration system Spark, in the same way that Microsoft's Surface Hub and Google's Jamboard work with their respective business software suites. As a network for messaging and sharing files between teams, the Spark software does all the behind-the-scenes work, so people can sit in on the meeting from a desktop, laptop or smartphone via the Cisco Spark app, without needing a separate Spark Board for every office and person in a collaboration. All work is saved to the Cloud and accessible and editable by everyone in a team.
The 55-in Spark Board is due to be released by the end of January for US$4,990, with the 70-in version following later in the year for $9,990. That's a bit less than Google and Microsoft's offerings, but the steep Spark subscription fee of $199 a month will start to eat into those savings. A cheaper option might be to go with the Kaptivo, a system that digitizes any old whiteboard.