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And for our next trick, says Google while literally wheeling out a humongous tablet ...

Jamboard is a cheaper Microsoft Surface Hub

image of Google Jamboard in conference room
'If you just keep staring at it, everything will become clear eventually'

Pic Google's latest tablet, the Jamboard, weighs 93 pounds (42 kilograms). It could inflict grievous bodily harm if it toppled onto you. But Google made sure to have the four-wheeled stand that supports the unwieldy screen certified by safety testing firm UL.

"UL was worried about it tipping over in an earthquake," said Prabhakar Raghavan, VP of apps for Google Cloud.

In California, where Google is based, people worry about that sort of thing.

The Jamboard is not your typical Android tablet. It's a 55-inch 4K Ultra HD touchscreen display designed to support real-time collaborative meetings across multiple locations. Equipped with HDMI 2.0, USB Type-C, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, mic, speakers, and camera, the device will cost about $6,000 when it goes on sale in early 2017, a price that includes one year of the $250 annual management dashboard fee.

Compared to Microsoft's $8,999 Surface Hub, a comparable team collaboration system that debuted in March, it's a bargain.

As of Tuesday, Google plans to begin accepting requests to join its Early Adopter Program.

In a press briefing on Monday, Google employees in the company's New York and San Francisco offices demonstrated real-time Jamboard collaboration in conjunction with live video conferencing and Google Hangouts.

Raghavan described the wheel-mounted tablet as an attempt to integrate the whiteboard brainstorming sessions that happen in corporate meeting rooms with the collaborative capabilities enabled by Google's cloud-based apps.

"It's always been painful that the results of this creative output are kind of squandered," said Raghavan. "So we set about to solve this problem. And we think we've found an answer."

The answer is a giant touchscreen fed by client apps running Android or iOS phones or tablets, backed by Google cloud services for authentication and real-time sharing.

"This is not just about collaboration between two physical boards," said Google product manager TJ Varghese. "We have companion apps that run on smartphone or tablet both for Android and for iOS."

The tablet app on a handheld tablet provides all the same functionality as the tablet app on the Jamboard. The phone app provides fewer capabilities – it's intended as an input tool for notes, images, and Drive files. In each case, participants can move content from their devices into the shared Jamboard for everyone to see.

"We really don't want people to take photos of whiteboards anymore," Varghese explained. "The phone app allows you to walk into a room and actually wirelessly look for a board nearby. And if there is content, you can request access and just take it with you."

In fact, Google's press herders didn't want visiting journalists to take pictures of the Jamboard at all. It's not clear why, given that the device is pleasant enough to look at with its white bezel and red trim. In any event, The Register was provided an image of the beast.

"We didn't want to design something that just looked like a black box on the wall, just like any other display," said Varghese. "We wanted this to be something that you would use at a workplace, inspire creativity, and also fit like modern furniture in your workplace."

To demonstrate the device, Googlers sent virtual sticky notes, some converted to text through voice recognition software, to the Jamboard display screen. The device can handle input from Docs, Sheets and Slides, as well as images from Google Drive, not to mention its built-in camera. It can also find images through Google Search.

Jamboard sessions – jams – are intended as in-the-moment events, and they can also be saved for later review, as a sequence of slides.

There's a bit of boxed smarts, for example line straightening and handwriting amelioration, which makes the results of brainstorming look a bit less windblown. Raghavan suggested that more advanced capabilities – such as the ability to convert an image of spreadsheet data into a functioning spreadsheet – could be added in the future.

Much of the device's potential will be determined at some later time. Google plans to provide developers with APIs to access the device at some point, to allow for the creation of customized corporate apps. And obviously desirable capabilities like transcriptions of everything said in a conference room hosting a Jamboard session await implementation.

How big is the market for such devices? In four months of sales, Microsoft is said to have convinced more than 500 corporate customers to order its Surface Hub.

Google customers beta testing the Jamboard at the moment include Instrument, Spotify, and Netflix.

Google didn't have any data to share that suggested whether the Jamboard might enhance meeting productivity, but Varghese insisted Jamboard testers found the product useful. Among the 30 teams testing the Jamboard, 85 per cent of those involved over the past year used the device at least once a week, he said.

In response to the suggestion that Google employees involved in product "dog fooding" were required to dine at the company trough, Jonathan Rochelle, director of product management for G Suite, insisted there was no such mandate.

"That is not how we operate dog food here," he said. ®

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