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Combating Covid-19: 5 top video conferencing apps to stay connected

Alvin R Cabral
Filed on April 5, 2020 | Last updated on April 5, 2020 at 03.13 pm

There are a plethora of apps out there; here are the ones you need by your side

The times are indeed weird, fascinating, agitating with the coronavirus-induced rules compelling us to stay at home. Unless, of course, you've got a job to do. Well, life - and business, of course - goes on.

Alas, what was once perceived as only for the top tiers of the corporate hierarchy have suddenly trickled down to everyone below. Video conferencing apps have been the in thing, aptly because we can't go out.

There are a plethora of apps out there that you can use, but let's narrow them down to some of the most popular, in no particular order:

Microsoft Teams

In 2017, Microsoft's Skype for Business was phased out to make way for a more 'team'-oriented suite - Microsoft Teams. It cobbles in video meetings, chats, app integration and file storage with - this wouldn't be a Microsoft product without it - file collaboration. It's handily available under a subscription to Microsoft 365. (Skype for Business is still very much available; it'll enjoy extended support until 2025.)

Arguably, its strongest offering is the fact that it's fully-integrated to all the Office apps, which provides seamless collaboration. Plus, you get direct access to other Microsoft invaluables, including OneDrive, SharePoint and Skype. And Microsoft guarantees the security of your files; they're all encrypted and complies with several standards. In terms of participants, it's at a maximum of 100 for private chats, up to 250 in meetings and calls, and a ridiculous 10,000 for live events.

And probably the most interesting part of it - bots. Yes, there are these little virtual critters that'll help hike productivity, including Statsbot, which gathers data and transforms it into useful insights; Polly, which conducts surveys; and Mio, which allows you to communicate with other teams using a different platform outside your organisation.

Cisco Webex Meetings

A veteran in this space, Cisco Webex Meetings - claiming to deliver over six billion meetings a month - promises hassle-free video conferencing and 'continuous teamwork. It's part of the Cisco Webex umbrella, which came to life in 2007 when Cisco acquired WebEx. It's under the broader Cisco Systems collaboration platform.

Webex Teams has a complete set of tools at your disposal to help you collaborate better (in 'amazing' HD and with 'crystal-clear' audio). Sharing is a strong suit of the app: From single files to animations to your entire screen, it's a seamless way to get everybody into the action, across Android, Windows, iOS and even your browser. You won't have a problem with integrating with external apps, which includes Office 365 and Outlook; Google Drive and Gmail; Github and Salesforce.

Snappy actions are also available, including the ability to sign in using face recognition, schedule meetings directly from the app and hands-free Siri voice commands, among others. You can even present your stuff from an Apple Watch. And depending on the service you're on, you can have up to 200 participants on video and up to 1,000 on audio.

Hangouts Meet by Google

Google brings its 'cool' factor into this game with Hangouts Meet, which is basically a souped-up version of the erstwhile Hangouts chat app; it was in 2017 when the world's largest Internet company decided to split Hangouts into two - Meet and Chat - with the former aimed at, you guessed it, 'any kind of' business.

As it's fully-integrated with G-Suite, you can simply hop onto a meeting directly from an e-mail invite or a calendar event. G-Suite's Enterprise Edition creates a dial-in phone number, which you can use to join in even in the absence of Wi-Fi or data. You can invite up to 250 persons for your video or audio meet-up, and there's also the availability of real-time captions using Google's own speech-to-text tech.

It's a really simple app, but it does do the job. It's ideal for small and medium enterprises that don't require all the virtual paperwork and formalities.

GoToMeeting

This one's even older than Cisco Webex, having been developed in 2004. If you imagine the tech back then, it's heart-warming that it's survived the ever-changing landscape - and why not? The platform is set up on a promise of built-for-collaboration-for-any-type-of-business.

It has a host of new features, including cloud recording so that you don't have to jot down notes; commuter mode, which lets you host or attend meetings wherever you may be; Siri-activated voice commands; and Room Launcher, which kicks off a meeting right at the comfort of GoToRoom hardware.

You'll get a max of 250 participants to join in on meetings, but that whittles down to 25 for video conferences, which is very low. Other great features include automatic meeting transcriptions, unlimited recording that's kept in the cloud and screenshare with draw, among several others.

Zoom

If you've got a name that's fast, you'd better back it up. And Zoom's meteoric rise to the top of the charts proves that it has. Created in 2011, Zoom was downloaded 2.13 million times in the UK on March 23, up from 56,000 a couple of months earlier, according to Apptopia; in the US, Statista revealed that it bludgeoned the competition, downloaded 3.2 million times from March 26 to April 1 (TikTok was second with 'only' 1.9 million).

So what has made it so popular? Aside from the garden-variety essentials - chats, phone system, conference rooms, webinars and meetings - its expansion into other services such as book clubs and teaching has made it even more appealing, plus its focus on key sectors such as government, finance, healthcare and education (word-of-mouth also probably helped). Sign up for its top plan and you can get up to 100 video participants and unlimited cloud storage. You can use it for free for a 40-minute meeting, and it even has an app marketplace.

However, controversy is hounding it: There are allegations of how Zoom is mishandling the collection of user data, and the creepy phenomenon so-called 'zoombombing', in which calls get hijacked by other users. Zoom has rolled out some patches and has promised to look into all these; shame, really, because of how successful it is.

alvin@khaleejtimes.com


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