Forget dry-erase markers: Google has a new conference room tool that's a lot cooler -- and networked, too.
The Jamboard is the interactive whiteboard the company first announced back in October 2016. Starting today, your company can set it up in its meeting room -- for a cool $5,000 (about £3,900 or AU$6,700).
I was able to take the Jamboard for a spin in Google's New York offices, and my time with it made one thing clear: The Jamboard is a lot more than a giant tablet. It's actually a pretty impressive office collaboration tool with a lot of interesting extras.
Google has launched a free tablet and phone app for iOS and Android, also called Jamboard, that connects to Google's G Suite office software. The software also lives in Google's purpose-built Jamboard display, but the free companion app does many of the same things. Owning the big Jamboard isn't required, but the big board and the smaller-screen apps can play together.
So far, based on my limited time with it, it seems like a nice piece of software. I wouldn't spring for a Jamboard for my home, of course. But keep in mind that price is about as much as your company would pay for five decent laptops. Oh, and it's about half what you'd pay for the Microsoft Surface Hub, though that rolls in a more full-featured Windows 10 PC.
Still, I'd love to see a Jamboard in my future office conference room, as long as someone else is footing the bill.
Jamboard's main function is collaborative brainstorming done via whiteboard scribbling. The app throws together handwriting, freeform sketching, photos, clippings and group-created post-it-style ideas into a live workspace that can be used in the same room and over remote Google Hangouts -- remember, GChat is going bye-bye, and Hangouts is going corporate.
The Jamboard's colorful look -- it comes in blue, red or gray -- and optional rolling swivel stand give it a simple look, like a giant kid's tablet or a toy. (It comes with a wall mount, but the stand costs an extra $1,199 now, or $1,399 after September 30.) The two noncharging capacitive styluses and eraser that come with the Jamboard look like giant pieces of chalk and an eraser you'd use in a classroom.
Writing on the 4K display feels satisfying. The digital ink even subtly spreads and streaks like a real marker. Erasing can also be done with fingers on the screen, and anything I write can be magnified, adjusted and moved. The Jamboard supports 16 touch points at once, so eight-person Jamming could totally be possible.
The Jamboard app allows web clips, photos and eventually videos to be dragged in, plus clippings of Drive content, but it's not a collaborative editing tool for Docs or Sheets. Instead, every session is saved as pages of scribbled, whiteboard-like collaborative work. Sticky notes can be created and added by anyone on the Jamboard or connected with a companion phone or tablet app, creating ideas that a moderator could move and address on the fly. Older Jamboard pages are saved in Drive, Google's cloud storage system.
I scribbled some notes and the built-in handwriting recognition deciphered even my abysmal scribbles. Google's cloud-based recognition tools in Jamboard are the same that Google uses in Android.
The brainstorming sessions seem to be drawing-focused right now, so anyone wanting to create charts or spreadsheets should probably look elsewhere. There's a possibility that Jamboard might become a deeper Android-running tool for other apps eventually, but right now it's mainly a supersmart whiteboard.
The companion app acts like a little interactive miniboard for office meetings or remote collaboration. Anyone who downloads Jamboard can add their own scribbles and notes and contributions, just like on the larger 55-inch screen, and any iOS or Android touchscreen can work. Alternatively, Jamboard can be used in a Chrome browser in a view-only mode.
I used the app on an iPad briefly, but the experience seemed good enough to be a fine miniwhiteboard creative collaboration app. It could even work for collaborations without buying the large-screen Jamboard hardware at all. As a New York-based writer working with west coast colleagues, this could be a great tool for our team, especially as we already use G Suite, Google's collected office software. I don't know if it'll be as great as other collaboration software already available for iOS and Android, but for free it's worth a try.
The Jamboard's biggest downside is that it's entirely dependent on being hooked into Google's G Suite and Hangouts for corporate collaboration. Those are great tools, but not having a second option means the Jamboard isn't as versatile as a regular PC-with-giant-monitor approach. (Microsoft's alternative, the Surface Hub, takes a similar Windows-centric approach, while Cisco's Spark Board keeps you in the networking giant's own cloud-based walled garden.)
But the Jamboard does show how useful a streamlined office tool like a smart whiteboard could be. And it does have some flexibility: Employees can directly tag in via employee ID, just like on Google's on-site NFC card reader (though that would have to be a customized addition). And the Jamboard has some ports and connections, including HDMI, USB-C and USB 3, and SPDIF audio out.
But the Jamboard's real purpose is to push and prove how new collaborative brainstorming tools in G Suite can work. I like the app, but I can't afford the whiteboard.
The Jamboard is available today in the US, and will be in the UK and Canada this summer. There's no word on an Australian launch as yet.