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9/20/2010
06:18 PM
Fritz Nelson
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Fuze Takes Meetings To iPad

There are several iPad apps that bring the device into business meetings, but Fuze lets the iPad serve as meeting host.

>Fuze Meeting
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Fuze Meeting
Fuze Meeting launched its iPad app, adding another feather to the business productivity cap of the popular device. Fuze Meeting already runs on desktop platforms within browsers, on the iPhone (on its fourth version), BlackBerry and Android smart phones. I've been testing the product for a few days; it is polished and easy, and strong enough to be a go-to collaborative meeting platform in any organization. Not all of the web-based version features are available on the iPad, but you can initiate and host a meeting from it, rather than simply having it serve as a meeting client, as other products do on the iPad.

Here's how it works: open the app, start a meeting, invite people, share content. The basics are really that simple. What you can do involves a bit more of an explanation, and the context for it will be from the point of view of an iPad host.

First, the idea behind the app is to bring together meeting participants wherever they might be, hence the multi-platform and mobile support. The key functions include audio (more on that in a moment), sharing documents, including video files, annotation and content highlighting, and meeting chat, with additional support for instant messaging from within the app. It does not support live videoconferencing, so no video chat, or no live video presentation of the presenter or attendees, at least not yet. The company says videoconferencing is planned for the Web version later this year, and other platforms will get the capability after that.

Fuze Meeting supports desktop sharing, but only from a desktop using the browser-based version; I was able to see my desktop on the iPad, but had trouble viewing it on my BlackBerry. With this feature, you can also let other viewers take over your screen, but they also have to be using the browser-based version; I couldn't remote control my desktop from the iPad. The desktop, or browser version also includes a whiteboard feature, but I couldn't view this from my iPad. The company said this file format isn't supported on the iPad yet.

The audio part is fairly interesting. Any meeting gets a phone number and room number. Attendees can dial in with any phone. This is a toll-based number, but some packaging options (more on that below) include a toll free number. International support exists in the UK, Spain, Netherlands, Mexico, France, Brazil and Australia, and the company has now added (starting immediately) Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Norway and Sweden.

On the iPad, Fuze provides an in-meeting audio option (SIP-based voice over IP) straight from the device with a feature called Fuze In. Use a headset and you're fine for full duplex VoIP; without it, you'll have to push-to-talk (a button is provided) because of the poor echo-cancellation on the iPad, according to Fuze. On a mobile device, there's the phone, obviously, and Fuze In. The company says it is including SIP-based calling in its next release in October.

On a Mac or PC, you'll either have to dial in with a separate phone, or use Skype for VoIP; the latter gets launched (assuming you have it and that you have an account) from the browser, you enter your Fuze room number, and you're set. It actually didn't work for me on the Mac (when I entered the room number it just kept telling me it was invalid), but the company includes Skype instructions. Since the applications supports instant messaging apps (more on that in a moment), it would be great if that were also an option. The company said that it would be difficult to support every IM vendor's VoIP option, and that the quality probably wouldn't be very good.

While there isn't a collaborative workspace or whiteboarding from the iPad (the company says the whiteboard feature will be in the next release), the idea is to share documents. That means anything that's in my iPad document library or photo library. Or, if you use DropBox or SugarSync, you can pull in documents from any device connected to those services. File types supported include those from the Microsoft Office suite, PDF, JPEG, PNG, TIF, GIF, BMP, a variety of video types, including MOV, FLV, MPEG, AVI, as well as MP3 and WAV files. Fuze says that is supports high definition quality documents -- that is, both high definition video, but also any high resolution graphics. Many of the graphics files I tested worked fine.

All of this gets uploaded into the Fuze Meeting library (which is to say the Fuze cloud) and distributed to meeting participants from there. Adding documents during a meeting is easy enough, but because they must be uploaded to Fuze's cloud service, you'll want to limit that to smaller documents. Anything big, like hefty presentations files and movie files should be uploaded and ready before the meeting starts. Of course, you can also re-use documents that are already in your Fuze cloud, and viewing or sharing those (along with pre-loaded content) is immediate.

However, if you are uploading files during a meeting, say from SugarSync on the iPad, you can actually exit the meeting (please get multitasking on the iPad soon!), get the document (in SugarSync, you just "send" it to Fuze -- there's a Fuze option automatically now in your SugarSync menu) and then return to the meeting. The meeting stays in tact for up to 15 minutes to accommodate this sort of thing -- oh the gymnastics software developers must endure to get around platform limitations. One limitation on the iPad -- from SugarSync, there was no way to view .mp4 files on the iPad (that format isn't supported natively on the iPad), but while I could view a .MOV file, I couldn't load it into Fuze; that's something you'll have to do on the desktop.

Once a document has been shared, there are a few options. First, of course, to traverse the document (for example, showing a presentation), but you can also provide annotation. Now anyone can take the laser pointer and highlight something, but true annotation requires that annotation control be given by the host. Annotating includes drawing shapes around objects, arrows, adding text and so on. If you do any of this on a video, for example, then the video scrubber adds visible markers for those annotations, and by hitting the video reverse or forward arrows, you jump right to those spots if you want. Pretty cool. Annotations aren't viewable while they're being drawn, but they are instantly viewable when each annotation is complete. Unfortunately you cannot annotate from the iPad version.

Fuze Meeting's iPad app supports Apple's Keynote presentation software natively, but it also can transcode the file into a QuickTime movie for timed playback (just as Keynote does when the document is exported). It also respects any embedded rich media, and the company says it works just the same if those Keynote files were once PowerPoints. The Keynote feature wasn't ready yet during my testing.

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