Another Stupid Product Aimed at Small Businesses

I'm all for collaboration. I'm all for communication. I'm all for new products. But the PR hype that hit me a couple of weeks ago struck me as so enormously stupid I had to calm down to write about it. I'm all for calmness, and I'm almost there, so here goes. How can a big company really think small businesses are ready to spend $1099 per video phone in today's market? How idiotic are those vice presidents? Oops, not calm anymore.

A company I refuse to name except for a nomination to the Idiot Vice President Hall of Shame just introduced a “new business media phone.” The pitch to me? Aimed at small businesses, the phone vendor wants to get their slice of the “10 million business media phones” soon to be flooding the market to satisfy the expected “$3 billion in annual revenue.” Yes, spend your bailout money on video phones.

New phones are cool. I wrote a consumer book about Voice Over Internet Protocol phones four years ago, and I wanted to write one about video phones, but there wasn't a market then. There were vendors, maybe eight or ten worldwide, and some are still around, like the Motorola Ojo you see in the background in some NCIS show sets. But none of the phones worked well and none had any real audience then. They still don't have any market to speak of, even though at least now we have a broadband network able to handle more video, thanks in no small part to YouTube.

Hey, idiot vice presidents, small businesses that want to use video phone communications are doing so already. For $25 bucks, they buy a Web cam and use the video features of their Instant Messaging client. The picture is bigger on their computer than on your little phone screen, it's no more trouble to hit the video call button than the regular link button on Skype or AIM or Yahoo etc., and you can do it with your laptop rather than being chained to your desk.

Buying two Web cams and using a free service just saved about $2150 on the cost of a video conversation. And no, there will not be $3 billion worth of video phones sold this year, especially not to small businesses. There aren't enough idiot vice presidents in small businesses to screw up that badly, so keep your focus on the enterprises. There are plenty of idiot vice presidents there, especially in phone manufacturing.

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