Cisco's Spark Board looks like an iPad -- and acts like one

The all-in-one meeting device is a full-fledged client for Spark meetings, with tight iOS integration

The Spark Board meeting device that Cisco Systems introduced on Tuesday is not so much a whiteboard or a videoconferencing screen as a giant tablet that everyone in the room can share.

There’s even a “home” button in the center of the bottom bezel that takes you back to the main menu. If Apple didn’t have a partnership with Cisco, you might even expect it to accuse the networking giant of copying its iPad design.

But Apple and Cisco are in fact working together, so closely that iPhones can work with the Spark Board a little more smoothly than other phones do. And in developing the new all-in-one device, Cisco focused on simplicity and ease of use, which haven’t exactly been hallmarks of the networking giant’s products up to now.

“For this product, we needed something that was familiar. We needed an experience that was obvious,” said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of IoT and applications, as he introduced the product on Tuesday in San Francisco.

Rather than a peripheral for a meeting leader’s PC, the Spark Board is a full-fledged client designed specifically to run Spark, Cisco’s cloud-based collaboration service. Users can draw on it with their fingers or with an expensive-looking black aluminum pen meant to simulate a dry-erase marker, and the screen even has a pinch-to-zoom feature like phones and tablets do for blowing up small details.

Like the first iPhone, the Spark Board is three things in one: a presentation display, a whiteboard and a videoconferencing system. These come in the form of a 55-inch or 70-inch 4K touchscreen display with a camera, microphones and speakers. They cost $4,990 and $9,990, respectively, plus $199 per month for software. Cisco says these can match the quality of dedicated room systems. It was hard to verify that claim under the demonstration conditions at Cisco’s event on Tuesday, but the ease of starting up meetings and shifting between video chats and whiteboarding was convincing.

Things are even more streamlined for Apple users. The Spark Board is tightly integrated with iOS, said Jonathan Rosenberg, a Cisco Fellow and vice president and CTO for the company’s collaboration business. For one thing, it can use the iPhone’s native Contacts database to automatically create entries for dialing in to Spark Board sessions.

The Spark Board is just a first step toward what Trollope sees as a new mode of computing that will be shared instead of personal. The idea is that people who share workspaces and content shouldn’t have to work through computers designed for individuals. Cloud computing, which powers everything the Spark Board does, at least for now, helps to make that possible. There’s more to come on this vision, but ease of use is the starting point, Trollope said.

For example, the Spark Board has enough computing power, thanks to a pair of Nvidia Jetson TX1 chips, to use face recognition to tell which participants are missing a meeting, Trollope said. Cisco has many more features in mind and will choose which to implement based on data it anonymously collects about how customers use the Spark Board, he said.

Some new security options are on the way, too. All inputs shared in a Spark Board meeting, such as drawings on the interactive whiteboard, are encrypted on the user’s device before being sent to the cloud, said Jens Meggers, senior vice president of cloud collaboration. The keys to encrypt and decrypt that data come from a global cloud and are discarded as soon as they’re used.

In the next few months, Cisco will offer alternatives to meet strict security and privacy needs, Meggers said. Customers will be able to have keys generated in their own region of the world or on their own premises instead of in Cisco’s global cloud.

“This product isn’t done,” Rosenberg said in a press briefing at the launch event. “This is the beginning.”

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags ciscoiPad

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?