Google is off to a solid start with the “we make hardware now” thing. The Pixel phone is great, Google Home and Google Wi-Fi look promising, and Chromecast is already really popular. Now comes Jamboard, a modern spin on an old-school tool: the whiteboard.
The 55-inch 4K touchscreen is the first hardware product in Google’s rebranded G Suite of cloud-based tools—you know, things like Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Docs. Those tools make long-distance collaboration easy online, but that can break down once everyone is in the same room. People have to agree which tool to use, and trying to sort it all out hampers spontaneity.
“We thought that might somehow limit creativity,” says Jonathan Rochelle, director of product for G Suite. “It made it so that when people wanted to be creative and collaborative, they can’t do the same thing at the same time. That bothered us, because the reason you’re in a meeting is to collaborate.”
Others have riffed on the digital whiteboard—Sharp’s Aquos Board and Microsoft’s Surface Hub come to mind. The difference here is how Google’s tools and cloud services tie it all together. Launch a Jamboard session and people can join in from anywhere using the Jamboard app on an Android or iOS device. They see a real-time feed from the board and can add text, photos, and drawings to the mix. The leader of the session can share it all with Google Hangout participants.
The big-screen Jamboard session is essentially replicated on the tablet: You can add things, rearrange them, and pull in images or maps from a side menu. The interactions are limited on a phone, but you see everything on the board in real time, and you can add text or create digital sticky notes. One major limitation is that you can’t really chip in on a laptop or desktop: You can watch a Jam session unfold in a browser, but you can only contribute via the mobile apps.
You can drive a meeting from a tablet, but the massive Jamboard is the ultimate mission control. It includes two chunky passive stylii that feel like sidewalk chalk in your hand, and the screen is pressure-sensitive when you’re writing on it. Magnets keep the stylii and microfiber eraser nestled on Jamboard’s metal base, but don’t worry if Steve from accounting swipes them. Any rubber-tipped stylus works, and you can use your hand to erase things.
Everything is saved to Google Drive, an essential convenience because Jamboard doesn’t have internal memory. Select the “handwriting-to-text” tool before you start scribbling and Jamboard does an impressive job converting your scrawl to searchable text. And it can straighten your lines, shapes, and symbols so everything looks neat and tidy.
From the board, you can dial in participants via Google Hangouts and search for images, maps, videos, and web pages to drag and drop into a Jam session. An HD camera above the screen lets you snap pics or selfies, while HDMI inputs and built-in Chromecast let you Netflix and chill in the comfort of your boardroom.
You’ll need to wait a while before you buying this physical embodiment of Google Wave because it won’t be widely available until next year. It’ll cost less than $ 6,000 at that point, but you can register today to be part of the early-adopter program. In the meantime, you’ll just have to use your analog whiteboard.