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Zoom has launched a feature that brings meeting participants together into a single view to simulate togetherness while video conferencing.
The feature, called Immersive View, puts up to 25 people into a single virtual background, such as a conference room or café. Zoom has enabled Immersive View by default for users with free and individual professional accounts. Customers with other account types will have to turn on the feature through the web portal.
Immersive View, introduced Monday, is akin to Together Mode in Microsoft Teams, which the company rolled out last year. The vendors use the feature to supplant the traditional gallery view that has been the primary mode for video conferencing.
"In a world where you have to be socially distant, [Immersive View] is one way to be in digital proximity with one another. At least it looks like you're together," said Zeus Kerravala, founder of ZK Research. "Gallery view almost reinforces the fact that we're alone."
Kerravala said Immersive-View-type modes could prove to be the default for video conferencing platforms in the future. Video windows create boundaries between meeting participants while having people share the same virtual location bolsters feelings of camaraderie. With many encountering Zoom fatigue, changing the meeting's layout spares workers the monotony of staring at the same "Brady Bunch"-style array of video squares hour after hour.
Zoom's feature has limitations. Workers using older versions of Zoom will see the meetings in the traditional gallery or speaker view. If a session has more than 25 participants, participants will see the additional attendees in a thumbnail strip at the top of the screen. Recorded meetings will not show the Immersive View. Instead, it will display in the view an organization previously used. Also, Immersive View does not work in meeting breakout rooms.
Beyond making meetings easier on the eyes, Zoom released a feature to make starting and ending meetings more convenient. The company announced that its Rooms conference room hardware supports Alexa for Business. With the addition of Amazon's digital assistant, employees can start and end meetings and book conference rooms using voice commands.
Cisco and Microsoft already offer similar capabilities -- Teams uses Cortana, while Cisco Webex has a built-in digital assistant.
Alexa's success in the consumer market gives the service an advantage over digital assistants that are less well known. Many people use Alexa at home to play music, ask for weather forecasts or check the status of orders from Amazon.
Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily News, Walpole Times, Sharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.