Adding value with CTOUCH
After enjoying success in the education market, large format touchscreen manufacturer CTOUCH is looking to make the same impact in the corporate sector with new collaboration products. Paul Milligan speaks to the company's CEO Remmelt van der Woude.
“We don’t believe in a market where you simply sell interactive screens, what is effectively a big plate of glass with a touch surface, that doesn’t bring you any added value”. That quote, from CTOUCH CEO Remmelt van der Woude is a very quick summation of his company’s philosophy to the interactive touchscreen market.
Founded in 2005 and headquartered in Eindhoven in The Netherlands, CTOUCH has been manufacturer of large interactive displays during a boom period where touchscreens have risen spectacularly. Thanks to Apple and the iPad and iPhone touchscreen technology, it is now commonplace in the consumer market, but has also meant those in a professional environment want the technology too.
The speed with which the interactive displays market took off in the proAV world took many of the established display manufacturers and interactive board manufacturers by surprise, leaving the door open for smaller, more niche providers like CTOUCH, to build a sizable portion of the market for themselves. CTOUCH has grown substantially over the years, with an average annual growth of 35% in the last five years.
The interactive displays market was originally dominated by the education sector, screens (and accompanying software) were designed to replace the aging interactive whiteboard/projector systems seen in classrooms and lecture halls. What has changed in the last 2-3 years has been the rise in demand for professional, fast starting, easy to use, presentation and collaboration tools in the corporate market. Small meeting rooms, huddle rooms and informal meeting spaces are sprouting up all over corporate offices and each one needs a interactive presentation solution, capable of contacting other global branches of the same organisation. This demand is creating a huge opportunity in the proAV and IT markets right now. Stats from the industry back this up, Gartner predicts that by 2019 there will be a 400% increase in group videoconferencing. Another survey (by ClearCompany) found that 86% of employees cited a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.
These trends have not gone unnoticed by CTOUCH, who is about to launch the Leddura 2Meet and 2Share wireless presentation and collaboration systems. Equipped with Barco, Harman Kardon and Microsoft technology inside, the company is confident the products will make the same impact on corporate organisations as previous models have in education establishments. “The key in the proposition to the corporate market is that big interactives displays enhance collaboration, whilst keeping a two-way functionality, ” says van der Woude.
“Their primary buying reason is not so much a desire to have a big screen with functionality, they want to share data, annotate and collaborate as easily as possible. We are now aimed at the presentation and collaboration environment.” Van der Woude admits that is a very specific niche to target, but says “we want to excel in a niche, rather than be a player in a mainstream commodity market.”
So what expertise does van der Woude think CTOUCH can transport across from the education sector into the corporate market? “The products generally sold to the corporate market are still rather complex to use. Display manufacturers often think their products being easy to use, but often it’s not the case and the user is struggling to work with the product’. The corporate user is often a less-frequent user, he/she will give a presentation once or twice a week, whereas a teacher will do this every day, starting at 8am, finishing at 3pm, so they put different requirements to the product.”
To help simplify presentations CTOUCH is intent on integrating as much of the technology needed for a modern-day collaborative meeting room into one device – a 65-in, 75-in or 86-in screen.
The desire to integrate as much technology into the screen as possible is the driving message behind the displays says Van der Woude. “We have integrated the collaboration module into the screen itself. It doesn’t add extra cables or a box, the interface is always the screen. It’s not buying a screen and buying an add-on, it’s buying a total solution where the performance of the solution is driven by the integrated add-on.”
Leddura 2Meet and 2Share displays feature a built-in router, the wi-fi settings from the collaboration device (based on Barco connectivity) runs through the AC router in the screen, which improves the bandwidth by a factor of 3 and increases the possible number of participants in the meeting up to 64.
Leddura 2Share was specially designed to share digital content wirelessly and securely in meeting rooms, it allows up to 64 users to connect during a meeting. To stop unwanted participants, enterprise-level encryption and a 4-digit access code ensure a secure and reliable environment. Leddura 2Meet features that functionality too but adds Skype for business connectivity, Harman Kardon’s algorithms for noise reduction and echo cancellation for an enhanced videoconference experience. The microphone built in to the screens can also perform voice commands in Microsoft Cortana or Hello Google. The ability to annotate and present but also conduct video meetings sets it apart from specialist video conferencing systems says van der Woude.
“Video conferencing solutions will still be around, but in many corporates the kind of solution we are building – a presentation that can perform video conferencing – is a way easier and more accessible solution. You can go from passive to interactive. You can’t use those dedicated video conferencing systems for a presentation. It’s very much for one purpose. We think you should be combining (as Microsoft is doing too), hardware, software, audio and video in one environment, so its fully compliant to mainstream IT standards and works in a very easy way.”
Another point of difference for Leddura 2Meet and 2Share is in the audio, not something you would naturally associate with an interactive displays manufacturer. Working with Harman, Leddura 2Meet and 2Share feature integrated 80W JBL speakers with Live Stage (virtual) surround sound. This technology widens the sound spectrum so the audio isn’t going in a straight line, and ensures voice quality is the same if meeting participants are 1-metre from the screen or 8-metres away. The screen also features integrated far field microphones equipped with ambient noise reduction and echo cancellation to provide clear voice capture and remove unwanted artefacts. “Audio is not the primary reason you decide to buy 2Share or 2Meet, but we believe the total solution should be the primary reason,” says van der Woude. “Part of the total solution is the audio. It’s great for a dealer to demo to clients if they can show a stunning video with nice audio, rather than showing something with 2x8W speakers attached to it.”
CTOUCH’s innovative approach to the interactive displays product segment also comes to the fore in its licensing model, something van der Woude admits is influenced by the IT market. “We are selling presentation devices that are 100% IT products. The lines between AV and IT are narrowing. In an IT market if you buy a phone you will get a monthly payment for data, if you buy a tablet and connect to Office365 environment, you will pay a monthly fee. We believe with our product, with all those applications and features to it, that we should have a hybrid model where you pay for the hardware and you pay a little extra per month to have additional features, extended service and support and workshops, and any future upgrades. So you are not paying for a product at one given time, but one that improves over time.”
So what do the next few years hold in store for CTOUCH? The technology will change, says van der Woude, but also how the industry deals with customers too. “We believe the customer and manufacturer are getting closer together, one will need the other eventually. It’s not a one-time transaction. It’s a continuous relationship where you improve the product you sold to the customer on day one. We are in the interactive business so we need to interact with our users as well,” says van der Woude.