Zoom, the de facto pandemic video-conferencing software company of choice, is getting into the hardware game. Today, the company announced the Zoom For Home—DTEN ME, a 27-inch tablet that comes with Zoom pre-installed. It’s $600.
The gadget was created in collaboration with DTEN, which makes video-conferencing hardware. It’s an all-in-one standalone device with a multi-touch 1080p display, three wide-angle smart cameras, and eight noise-reducing microphones. It also doubles as a whiteboard, and you can link it to your calendar so that meetings appear in the sidebar. According to TechCrunch, it will also support “ultrasonic pairing” between the DTEN ME and either a laptop or smartphone, in the event you need to share your screen. Supposedly that works by emitting a sound between 18 and 22kHz, which is inaudible to most people’s ears. (This does not seem to appear anywhere in the spec sheet for the device, however.)
Sure, OK. Just one question—who is asking for this?
In an interview with TechCrunch, Jeff Smith, the head of Zoom Rooms, said the whole schtick is to give remote workers a simple device that they can easily use right out of the box—just turn the thing on, enter a pairing code, and that’s it. That sentiment is echoed in Zoom’s press release, which also emphasizes the Zoom for Home device works for anyone with a Zoom license and is compatible with Zoom Rooms appliances.
“After experiencing remote work ourselves for the past several months, it was clear that we needed to innovate a new category dedicated to remote workers,” Zoom CEO Eric S. Yuan said in a statement. “I’m so proud of the team for continuing to think outside the box and prove why Zoom is the best unified communications platform that can meet the needs of all types of users.”
To be fair, video calls can be an annoying part of remote work. Someone has wonky wifi so their video constantly cuts out, the audio gets warped, someone forgets to mute themselves, and then there’s always the awkward dance of who speaks next. Downloading and setting up various video-conferencing software isn’t exactly fun. I get it. But it’s also not that hard or so much of a hassle that I’d be willing to slap down $600 and scream, “Take my money!” And I am side-eyeing Yuan’s comment about how this thing is evidence that Zoom is thinking outside the box here.
In fact, I have questions. Like, can you use this honking 27-inch tablet for literally anything else? If not, who has the extra desk space for a 27-inch, single-use oversized tablet that does nothing but take Zoom calls? What if you and your partner both use Zoom? Does this support multiple accounts? The spec sheet indicates that while there is one HDMI port, it runs off proprietary software called DTEN OS. The TechCrunch writeup suggests that the Bluetooth-esque “ultrasonic pairing” will allow for screen-sharing, but that’s not the same as hooking this thing up as an extra monitor whenever you’re not in a call. Some days I don’t have a single Zoom call, but am hopping between Lifesize, Google Meets, Bluejeans, and some other inexplicably named video software. Somehow, I doubt this will support other video-conferencing services.
Sure, this thing has the ability to sync up with your calendar and contacts, but does it support any other software? Or is this just like one of those wall-mounted screens in your office conference room that no one knows how to use when it comes time for a meeting?
I reached out to Zoom with all these questions but did not immediately receive a response. Sadly, there’s not a whole lot to go off of from Zoom’s official materials.
Honestly, this gadget would make sense in an enterprise setting—it does seem to be a repurposed version of the Zoom Rooms hardware the company already sells to businesses. (Surprise, surprise, DTEN is a Zoom Rooms partner as well.) If I were to hazard a guess, enterprise hardware may not be booming now that many white-collar office buildings remain closed to comply with local stay-at-home orders. Or maybe this is a move designed to capitalize on the fact that more Americans would like to continue working from home in the future. But even if either of these scenarios is the case, this still seems like a slapdash attempt to get remote workers to overpay for something that a laptop or tablet—you know, perfectly multifunctional devices that many of us use every day—can do for no extra cost. Unless my company is paying for this special tablet, I don’t think so.
Maybe I’m wrong and lack imagination. If so, you can preorder this thing as of today and tell me how stupid I am when it ships in August 2020.