We’re living in a time of continuous connectivity. You can connect with me by text message, by instant message, by Google Hangout, by Twitter, by phone, by email, by Slack…
But all I want is a simple, easy-to-use, high-quality audio conference calling system.
Before we go any further, let me be clear:
This is a rant.
If you’re cool with that, read on. I’m not going to be funny. I’m just here shouting into the internet void to feel better. If you’re not okay with this, then I recommend you peacefully move on to the next post.
Still here? Awesome. Let me explain.
My job is managing software development projects. I use all sorts of communication modes to talk with developers, clients, and stakeholders about a project. I will essentially do whatever it takes. Are you a text-messaging maven? Then I will text you right back. Do you swear by your email? No problem, email is where it’s at. Do you put headphones on and ignore all things digital? Cool. I’m gonna tap on your shoulder.
But talking by voice. Audio. Live. That is where it’s really at. (Second only to actually meeting in-person. Remember that? You know, face-to-face?)
I know some of you will roll your eyes at the slightest mention of a conference call. That’s fair. Many are boring beyond belief. But run well, they really are a great way to communicate quickly and efficiently. A brief phone call can save hours of emailing back-and-forth.
A good conference call system for me is one that:
1. Works with all phones.
2. Empowers people to call in to the conference.
3. Doesn’t require a software install.
4. Has crystal-clear audio.
Nice, but not necessary: Enables screen sharing for presentations and helps you see who is talking when you don’t recognize the voice. Simplified dialing is also nice.
Uber is my go-to conferencing system of choice today. The service is absolutely supberb. Easy to use. Has a great web interface. No software to install. They send me text messages as soon as someone dials into the call (with, I might add, the phone number I need to dial into to join them). Oh and they have a great attitude. You should set up a call just to hear their on-hold music. Brilliant stuff.
Requirement 1: Pass. Works great! iPhone, Android, office phone. It doesn’t matter to Uber.
Requirement 2: Pass. Yep, you betcha. Call-in is what Uber does best.
Requirement 3: Pass. We are free-and-clear of software futzing.
Requirement 4: Fail. Despite listing “HD Audio” as a feature on their marketing website, it is anything but. The quality of the call is no better than a POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) call. Worse, there is often a lag in the audio so people are inadvertently talking over each other, over and over and over. Annoying.
Oh, and flip a coin to see if the audio via their website works. Best to dial in.
This is the service that has ruined me for all other services. Did you know you can make an audio-only call from an iPhone to another iPhone without using cell towers or POTS? The button to make it happen is right there on the contact screen for who you want to call.
Have you ever tried this? OMG. The audio is SO CLEAR. I kid you not. It’s like you are right there in the room. Flip over to speakerphone, and you will be amazed. Everyone complains that speakerphones suck, but the real problem is the POTS system they are transmitting audio over. The speakers you have are great. An iPhone as a speakerphone can be an absolute joy to listen to.
Requirement 1: Fail. It doesn’t work with Android-loving folks. It doesn’t work with office phones. Gotta use an iPhone, iPad, or a Mac.
Requirement 2: Fail. It ain’t a conference call. You call one person, or they call you. The 3rd persons can never join.
Requirement 3: Pass. So long as you are using Apple hardware, nothing to install here.
Requirement 4: Pass with flying colors. Best. Audio. Ever. Love. Love. Love.
Every time I ask the twitterverse about quality conference calls, people always bring up Google Hangouts. Blah. I don’t really know why I hate Hangouts so much. They just … suck. For a variety of reasons.
First: I don’t understand how to start a Hangout. I don’t have Gmail open all day long (I use Mail.app). But even when I do open it, the start-a-call actions are confusing. I have to find someone on that left side-bar in gmail. Then there are multiple icons, and you have to click on the right one. One starts an instant-message-like “Hangout.” No video. No audio. There’s another one that starts a video Hangout. And once you start it with a person, you can invite others. But that’s weird. Oh, and there is a way to start a hangout from a calendar invite, which is sorta cool, and even makes a certain amount of sense. But it is a separate field from the traditional event location field (where I usually put Uber conference call info) on a meeting invite. This leads to confusion with the attendees. Hangout or not? Every event has a built-in Hangout. Oh and also, the link from the calendar invite only works if you are viewing the invite from calendar.google.com. I use the Calendar.app on OS X, so again, fail.
Second: Invites don’t work. I can’t tell you how many times I have been invited, or tried to invite someone, and the invite just never went through. This is like calling someone and their phone just doesn’t ring. Not cool. Especially when the other people are clients and you have seconds — not minutes — to get this technology to work. I think maybe the invite sending is slow? Or sometimes invites get sent to a personal Gmail account instead of a work one? I don’t know. I don’t care. They don’t work.
Third: Along the same lines, Hangouts themselves don’t always work. The system is pretty simple: unique URL, and anyone who has the URL can join the hangout. Except when that doesn’t work. Many times a link to a hangout has been shared with me (say via Slack or text message) and when I click on it, Google tells me the Hangout is over. This, all while I am on the phone with one of the other participants who just sent me the correct link, and is also actively in the Hangout.
Requirement 1: Pass. Works with all phones. Sure, I’ll give this one to Google.
Requirement 2: FAIL. People can’t just call-in. It’s cool that you do the reverse and dial-in people from a Hangout, but there is no way for me to use my phone to connect into an in-progress call.
Requirement 3: Pass? I honestly don’t remember if I had to install a browser plugin to make this work. I think I did. But not sure.
Requirement 4: Pass. I don’t think the audio is as crisp as FaceTime, but compared to POTS, Hangouts are awesome.
Where does that leave us? Nowhere. I’ll use FaceTime Audio every chance I have, Uber when a call-in is needed. And I guess Google Hangouts for times when video is a must. But I really wish I could just use FaceTime. All the time.
Know of a great conference call option that meets my criteria? I’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.