updated 10:45 am EDT, Fri August 24, 2012
Cloud architecture prevents taxing users' machines
Zoom.us is a new service that is offering users free video calling through an existing Facebook or Google login, and works with Macs, PCs and iOS devices to offer high-quality video conferencing with up to 15 participants by leveraging its own servers to manage bandwidth and processing, meaning users' computers are not as heavily taxed.
Video calls can be initiated through the zoom.us website or by way of a mobile app available from the App Store. Invitees to video calls do not have to sign up with the service in order to join a video call meeting. The service competes with video calling services such as Skype, Google+ and ooVoo, though most of those services charge a small fee to enable group video calling. Apple's own FaceTime isn't really a competitor as it doesn't work with Windows, and is intended for one-on-one video calling only.
The company claims to offer 720p HD video quality on the calls using its own proprietary video technology, which also offers screen sharing and private text chatting. The service is pitched to both consumers who want to easily create or participate in an individual or group video call, and to businesses looking for an easy, free way to set up video conference calls that may involve a larger number of people.
The service's biggest selling point may be its simplicity. It doesn't require a separate login, making it easy for potential users to sign up. The company says the service works over both cellular and Wi-Fi connections, and lets members who initiate calls invite people without requiring them to download an app or become a member. The screen-sharing option can be used to share the whole screen or just a specific windows, such as a presentation.
Zoom.us's service is free of charge, and does not require Flash in either its mobile or website versions. Participants can be invited using ordinary email addresses, IM identities or a simple "meeting ID" URL so that they can join without logging in.
Because the majority of the processing is done on the server side, any iOS mobile device capable of running iOS 5 can utilize the service, and desktops need only a modern web browser. The company says the service is entirely free for now, but may switch to a paid model in the future based on time used.
Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal reviewed the service and recommended it, noting that there were some minor limitations (users on cell connections were a bit lower-quality than Wi-Fi connections, and Google only allows a subset of a user's full contact list to appear in the Zoom app). He also noted that screen sharing can be originated only from desktop or notebook computers, not mobile devices.