Many of us had never even heard of Zoom before the Covid 19 pandemic, but it's only taken a brief two years for it to enter the dictionary as a verb. We've all had to learn how to start and conduct video meetings, whether for business or connecting with loved ones (wine Fridays anyone?). We've also all had to learn how to end meetings too - the uncomfortable moments when everything has been said and time is up, or the business meetings where Gary from accounts dives into unnecessary details and the meeting drags on for what seems like hours. How we'll all look back and laugh! Or not.
The Zoom platform took off exponentially in the pandemic, and quickly became the video communication app of choice - mainly due to it's ubiquity and its cross-platform ease of use. It's for this reason that I'm only reviewing 5 alternatives here (there are a good number more).
Ease of use is key. I remember early on in C19 when someone invited me to a meeting on Jabberblog (or something like that). Needless to say, I didn't have it, and much eyerolling ensued. I never made the meeting, as I couldn't get the damn thing to work on my iPad. Does not compute, does not compute.....
Ubiquity and useability are everything - we all know by now that in the world of communication and sharing, we simply can't afford to use anything niche or difficult. It's not just about me, it's about how useable it is for evryone involved.
Money money money
Zoom is great - an almost fool proof app ('Martha, you're muted!') and it's free. For a 40 minute meeting. And more limited functionality. Truth is, if you want more than 40 minutes and the full shebang that Zoom offers, you'll have to open your wallet. It's understandable, they're not a charity, and Zoom is, after all, aimed squarely at video conferencing and webinar capability - something that larger businesses are happy to pay for. Zoom comes in 4 different packages at time of writing - Free, Pro, Business and Enterprise - each opening up more functionality and/or available licences.
Out of the 5 alternatives offered here, I'll start at the app that is aimed most accurately at the Zoom business user base.
MS Teams appears to me to be Zoom's most direct competitor. Like Zoom, it has 4 versions: Free, Essential, Business Basic and Business Standard. A key point worth noting is that the 'Business' versions include all Microsoft 365 apps - 'Business Basic' gives you web and mobile app versions, and 'Business Standard' gives you the desktop versions with 'premium features'.
As the name suggests, MS Teams is squarely aimed at work teams and collaberation, and the full integration of Office 365 apps gives it a clear edge over Zoom in this respect. It has a 'Together Mode' that makes participants all share the same virtual background, and supports standard chat and voice call features. Its screen and file sharing capabilities makes collaboration seamless.
Zoom scores on a 1,000 participant capacity over Teams' 300 cap, but Teams enables 60 minute meetings in the free version as opposed to Zoom's 40 minutes. The maximum meeting time limit on MS Teams is 24 hours, whereas Zoom offers 30 hours. A 30 hour meeting. Really?
MS Teams and Zoom are pretty neck and neck in their Pro versions, so you pays your money and takes your choice....
Two crucial things to know about FaceTime are a) it's made by Apple and b) it's free. This means that there are no (and probably won't ever be) any in-app purchases, and that it's made for Apple users. Having said that, MacOS Monterey opens up inviting non-Apple users to Facetime meetings on desktop machines, but effectively - it's Apple only.
FaceTime supports group call to 32 participants, provides end-to-end encryption and is easy as pie to use on any iOS device beyond iOS7 - which, let's face it, is 99.9% of us.
It's an intuitive platform, and as long as you're an Apple user, 32 participants may be more than a lot of us may ever need. FaceTime also provides the ability to use Animoji, Memoji and 'fun' effects if that's your thing. It's not my thing. Bah, humbug.
Good app, though.
Time was when Skype was one of the few games in town. It's now part of the Microsoft ecosystem, and still an effective and easy to use app.
Skype supports up to 50 participants and offers texting and instant messaging inside meetings. It's also got a handy subtitle feature that transcribes spoken word to text in real time during meetings - excellent for hearing impaired users, and highly entertaining used on people like me from Saaaf London.
Skype allows meeting recording and screen sharing, and is also true to its telecoms roots in offering a standard 'phone' video and audio service with optional subscriptions (useful for international calls).
Like FaceTime, Duo supports up to 32 participants, end-to-end encryption, screen sharing, meeting recording, text and messaging. In many ways, Duo is Google's version of Apple Facetime - very easy to set up and use, and even more of a synch if you're a Google Suite user.
Like FaceTime, it's also properly no strings free.
Many of us are so used to using WhatsApp in group text mode that we sometimes forget that this even has other functions.
WhatsApp (owned by FaceBook) limits you to 8 participants, but it's a free no strings offering. This app was never really designed for business use, but that's not to say that you can't! It functions really well, supports free audio and video calling, file exchange (as long as they're not massive), and is a good secure platform. And ubiquitous - which counts for a lot.
So which one of these will you use? If you're asking me - I use all of them. I have a 'comms' folder on my iPad, so that whatever the platform I'm invited to, I'm ready to go. I have 8 apps in there at last count - but not Jabberblog. It still doesn't work......