Popular online meeting services WebEx and GoToMeeting were both in the first wave of applications for Apple’s iPad, but they lacked one key feature — the ability to actually host meetings. That’s where a company called Fuze Box has been able to top them. It’s releasing the Fuze Meeting service on the iPad today. And yes, users can not just join a meeting, but host one as well.
That’s actually something I asked Bernd Oliver Christiansen, chief technology officer of GoToMeeting-maker Citrix, about back in April. At the time, he said he was open to adding meeting hosting capabilities to the GoToMeeting iPad app, but they probably wouldn’t be necessary, since the iPad wasn’t a business device: “For a typical business user, are you going to buy an iPad to be more effective at your job? Probably not.” So Citrix and WebEx-maker Cisco both treated the iPad as a secondary experience, a way to watch and listen to meetings when you’re away from your computers.
But there are signs that Christiansen (and other folks who were skeptical about the iPad’s usefulness as a productivity tool) underestimated the device’s business appeal. Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard said recently that he sees chief information officers starting to bring iPads into meetings. As I visit startups and conferences, I’m seeing more and more iPads carried around instead of laptops. Even virtualization company VMware is developing an iPad strategy.
So Fuze Meeting (which was already available on the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android phones) could be the app that meets the needs of the iPad’s growing business audience. Chief executive Jeff Cavins gave me a demo a few weeks ago, and I was pretty impressed. The app has a simple, easy-to-use interface, so that it only takes a few seconds to get a meeting going, but there are extra features you can access when needed, like the ability to share from other iPad apps during a meeting, such as Apple’s Keynote presentation application and storage service Dropbox. There are nice little touches, like the ability to guide meeting attendees by making a laser pointer-style red dot appear wherever you’re touching the screen.
Cavins said that it will be harder for Citrix and Cisco to add meeting hosting capabilities to their mobile apps than they let on, because it’s not a trivial matter to move desktop screensharing capabilities to the iPad. At the same time, he acknowledged that if competitors want to put a lot of money into the problem, Fuze Meeting won’t be the only meeting hosting service on the iPad for long. But right now, at least, it’s unique. (Update: Or not. A startup called MightyMeeting, which launched in March at the DEMO conference co-produced by VentureBeat, says its users have already hosted “many thousands” of web meetings using their iPads.)
San Francisco-based Fuze Box (formerly CallWave) says it has 2.3 million users total, including 100,000 for Fuze Meeting. The Fuze Meeting for iPad is being offered through a 30-day free trial, then pricing starts at $29 per month.