Users eager for Slack to improve video calling

Slack users were glad to hear the team collaboration vendor was partnering with Amazon to improve audio and video calling.

Slack users welcomed the news that the team collaboration vendor plans to use technology from Amazon to improve audio and video calling.

Today, Slack's conferencing service is glitchy and lacks essential features, users said. The shortcomings mean Slack customers must rely on other vendors for online meetings.

"We need to have large-scale meetings on occasion, and Slack simply doesn't cut it performance- or quality-wise with multiple participants," said Drew McMurry, a web developer at a nonprofit genealogical organization.

Slack is a great collaboration tool, McMurry said. But he wishes the app contained as many video conferencing features as Microsoft Teams. Because it doesn't, McMurry must frequently switch apps. "This is a pain," he said.

Slack user Beth Perkins said being able to schedule and conduct large video meetings in Slack would make her organization more efficient. Her company only uses Slack's video feature for quick one-off conversations.

"The current feature is pretty basic, and a little buggy," Perkins, director of people and culture at digital product design firm O3 World, said. "I'd love to see more tools that enable us to keep working in Slack without having to bounce between a ton of other windows and applications."

But users will have to wait for those enhancements. In the near term, Slack's use of Amazon's technology might improve call quality. Beyond that, however, Slack has not made clear when users can expect new features to launch.

In a statement, Slack said it might use Amazon's technology to support meeting recording and transcription, and video conferencing on mobile. But those features would be part of its "long-term roadmap."

CEO Stewart Butterfield told investors last week that the company was not interested in becoming a full-fledged video conferencing provider. Instead of investing in native meeting features, the company has pursued advanced integrations with vendors like Zoom and Fuze.

Slack's lack of support for real-time communications could be costing the company customers, though. Rivals Microsoft and Cisco provide all-in-one apps that support messaging, video conferencing and external calling.

Analysts said Slack's partnership with Amazon was a step in the right direction. 

"I think Slack has realized there is an important piece of the pie missing," said Tim Banting, an analyst at London-based research firm Omdia. "This is a way to backfill that very quickly."

Slack calls today can't be scheduled ahead of time and are limited to 15 people. Users also can't invite people outside of their Slack account to meetings or share their screen and video feed at the same time.

Slack will soon use the technology behind the video product Amazon Chime to power calling. Chime supports audio conferences with up to 250 people, including external guests, and lets 16 people share video on desktop at one time.

Amazon Chime also integrates with standards-based meeting room systems. However, Butterfield suggested Slack wasn't interested in getting into the conference room market.

Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, said it makes sense for Slack to focus on what it does best -- team collaboration -- while integrating with a range of video conferencing providers. The Amazon partnership gives Slack everything it needs, he said.

"It would take tremendous investment for them to build out their voice/video capabilities, and that effort would take away from their core focus on developing their team app," Lazar said.

Slack also announced that Amazon was giving all its employees the option of using Slack. However, neither Slack nor Amazon would say how many Amazon employees were using the app today.

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