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Zoom provides app tools to more developers

Educators, doctors and finance professionals use Zoom differently, so the company wants developers to help it meet each group's specific video conferencing needs.

Zoom has made app-building tools available to all developers as it seeks their help tailoring its video conferencing platform for specific industries.

On Tuesday, the company released the Zoom Apps SDK to all developers, allowing a broader range of companies to create apps that work within meetings. Such apps allow workers to draw on virtual whiteboards and sign documents with DocuSign during video conferences. The launch should encourage third-party developers to add more features to meetings, Zoom Apps product manager Ross Mayfield said.

Zoom opened a marketplace for Zoom Apps in 2020, but developers had to request permission to build the software. The restriction allowed Zoom to refine its documentation and add features to its developer toolkit. However, that process has run its course, Mayfield said.

"I do believe you can innovate better in public and openly than you can in private," he said. "I've been waiting for this day for quite some time."

App developers can help Zoom accommodate the demands of a broad audience. The COVID-19 pandemic caused Zoom usage to skyrocket, with Statista reporting that daily meeting participants jumped from 10 million in 2019 to 300 million in April 2020. These users included teachers holding classes, doctors meeting with patients, and family members holding reunions. All those groups want different things out of Zoom, Mayfield said.

Zoom Apps Store
Zoom's app marketplace allows workers to add more functionality to their video meetings.

"Now that we've opened [developer tools] up to the world, we're going to see a lot more apps building into verticals like education and healthcare," he said.

Users may see the fruits of this move relatively quickly. Developers can use the tools to convert existing web apps into Zoom apps in a matter of weeks, Mayfield said. Companies then submit the software to Zoom, which will review and approve the app before it reaches the store.

Getting more app developers on board is a critical step in Zoom's evolution from a video conferencing product to a collaboration platform, ZK Research analyst Zeus Kerravala said. Working within a meeting without juggling programs will make employees more efficient while making Zoom a central part of their workflow.

Zoom has worked toward spurring app development, starting a $100 million fund for third-party developers last year. The fund has provided money to firms whose apps transcribe meetings, allow workers to play team-building games, and help human resources departments conduct job interviews. In May, Zoom expanded on the fund by opening an investment division, Ventures, meant to drive more development on the company's platform.

The company's competitors have also seen the appeal of third-party development. Rivals Cisco and RingCentral invest in companies developing for their collaboration platforms. Last month, Microsoft launched development tools that allow workers to use apps for collaborative content editing during Teams meetings.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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