Get it? Because this blog post is about Around, the wonderful new video call software. I’ve been using it for my video calls and I’d be happy to deliver you a TLDR right off the bat: It’s nice. It has all the important features of video call software you need while being very design-focused in a way that feels stand-out fresh. Thank god someone is getting this right.
Little floating circles
Make no mistake: chatting with people where you see their faces in a little floating circle is way nicer than a giant rectangle. It may not seem like a massive difference, but it really does feel different and better, particularly when you’re chatting with multiple people and/or people you chat with all the time.
You still get the face, that all-important human connector, but you aren’t seeing my disheveled bookshelf, my laundry hamper, or my dead plant in the corner. Even if you have a nice background or nobody cares about your unmade bed in the background (they probably don’t), there is a literal fatigue that sets in when you have a camera pointed at your whole area for any sustained period. It’s hard to describe, but it just feels like… a lot. That all changes for the better when all you are sharing is a cropped circle of your face. There is less pressure to be maintaining eye contact, for one thing. Here’s me and Geoff:
There is real tech behind these circles. The virtual camera “zooms” to properly size your face in the circle so you’re always in focus. If you move off to any direction, it “pans” to keep you centered (as much as it can). Even the color filters it offers, while on the surface might just seem like a bit of fun, lower video fatigue. I gotta imagine the pressure to wear makeup is a bit lower when you’re green and pixelated:
The circles go everywhere in Around. They don’t have to be floating (although I like that mode the best). If you pop into Campfire mode, you’ll see everyone together in a more normal/dedicated window. If you pop into Notes or Image Sharing view, they come along in there too. Speaking of which…
There is a collaborative Notes view in every call. The editor is very polished, and I was impressed. This isn’t some half-baked slapped-on chatroom-esque thing; it’s for actual formatted note-taking. The real-time-ness of it is spot on.
But here’s the actual best feature… when the meeting ends, everyone in the meeting gets emailed a copy of the notes. I’m going to give that three clap-hands emojis: 👏👏👏. Here’s Dave and I having a little call about ShopTalk, writing some silly notes, next to the emailed notes that arrive immediately after the end of the call:
Notes can have a chat-like feel to them, but there is literally a chat feature as well. Like everything in Around, it’s got interesting UX to it. When you type and send a chat message, it appears next to your floating head. Just one chat message. It stays there until you remove it. It just makes a ton of sense. You don’t really need a traditional chatroom, you’re already talking to each other! More likely you need to share a link or something, and this UI is perfect for that.
Aside from notes, there is Image Sharing, which is a very focused way to get everyone looking at one thing.
And then, of course, Screen Sharing. All the features you need for that are there. You can share your whole screen, or select just one window. Here’s me having a meeting with Dave where we’re looking at different polling options:
You can give control of your computer to the person you are sharing with as well, which is awfully handy for pair programming sessions, which I’m doing constantly.
The first thing that Geoff said to me when we popped on to our first Around call was “Wow, you sound good.” I don’t hear that often at my desk because I work in an office with glass walls and it’s a bit echo-y and I haven’t gotten around to sound-dampening stuff in here yet. There is more real tech at work here with Around’s build-in noise reduction.
Around takes this echo cancellation stuff even further with their EchoTerminator feature (video). Even if you’re in the same room as other people on the same Around call, you don’t have to do that little dance where everyone mutes except one and hope that works. With Around, you don’t have to think about it, it just works (without the echo and feedback).
I spent a good while today watching Dave basically re-create the Dramatic Chipmunk GIF with his face, playing with how Around detects and zooms on faces. So that was a good time. But many of the features of Around have fun built right in.
The most important integration for a video call app to me is Slack. That’s where my co-workers are, so kicking off a call happens many times a day right from there. As expected, you can do
/around and off we go. Google Calendar is also a no-brainer.
On a serious note, it’s good to see Around on top of security. For example, if you share an image, it’s on their servers only until the call is over and then deleted. All text is encrypted. Meeting rooms aren’t going to get bombed as there are one-off ID’s and entrance controls.
Ready to give it a try?
Around is free for anyone to download, with pricing coming later this year.