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Webex meetings could soon be behind the wheel

With AirPlay support, users will be able to wirelessly connect with iPhones, iPads, and Macs to share content or mirror their screens in a meeting with colleagues — even while driving a car.

Cisco has unveiled plans to integrate its Webex video conferencing app with Ford vehicles’ infotainment systems as well as ApplePlay, enabling videoconferencing from behind the wheel.

The move is an effort by Cisco to address a prosumer market and hybrid workforce needs, which means being able to work from any location — even your car or truck.

The Webex video conferencing app will also work on supported Apple mobile phones, tablets, and Webex devices, such as Cisco's own Webex 840 and 860 mobile phones.

Earlier this month, Ford announced two new electric vehicle lines — the Ford Blue and the Ford Model e — both of which feature a 15.5-in. screen and entertainment system called SYNC 4A. The Ford Blue lineup includes the new F-150 Lightning truck.

Ford sees the F-150 Lightning and other electric vehicles as “next-generation office spaces for hybrid work,” according to Darren Palmer, vice president of Ford Electric Vehicle Programs.

“Soon there will be a native Webex app right within the SYNC 4A screen for a seamless, collaborative experience,” Palmer wrote in a blog post. “We’re looking at ways to bring the human connection in. We don’t see why people wouldn’t be using their vehicles as a fantastic quality office to be able to collaborate together.”

Webex embedded in electric vehicle (EV) infotainment systems won't just create a place to make a call or join a meeting, but it will make "EVs the best place to hold a meeting,” Palmer said. “They [vehicles] often have the best sound systems, microphone systems, and even screen systems."

The partnership with Ford and Webex is only the first of a new series of collaborations between the two companies, Cisco said. Ford has already talked about how it envisions using Webex to connect customers to contact centers and dealers. The company expects to make more announcements later this year.

Cisco also called out its integration with AirPlay, Apple’s proprietary wireless technology that streams content between compatible devices that share a network, such as an iPhone streaming music to a speakers in your home or vehicle.

As a security measure, Cisco said IT administrators can require a PIN during the initial AirPlay setup, or every time someone tries to connect to a Webex device via AirPlay.

Cisco first announced a WebEx mobile device integration last October with WebEx for iPad.

Cisco's AirPlay support will allow iPhone, iPad, and Mac users to wirelessly share their Webex meeting screen to a Webex Room, Desk and Board series device. WebEx on AirPlay and other supported mobile devices is slated to be globally available beginning in June. 

“By integrating AirPlay on Webex devices, we deliver the flexibility that today’s workers want and need,” Jeetu Patel, Cisco’s general manager for security and collaboration, wrote in a blog post. “People can now effortlessly collaborate, share, and enjoy their content — at work and at home — with the devices they love and use every day.

"Gone are the days of fumbling with cords or worrying about the connections," Patel added.

Cisco also announced Cloud Calling on personal room devices, enabling users to call business colleagues by name or extension directly from within a Webex Desk Pro device. The company also said its Webex app use hit a record six million users.

The new integrations are Cisco's attempt to expand the use and availability of Webex and its communications capabilities in general. So offering an embedded app is its way of integrating and being integrated with other apps, according to Jack Gold, principal analyst at research firm J. Gold Associates.

Right now, Webex is pretty much only a business-user tool, with very little if any consumer play, Gold said. Cisco would like to widen the Webex market to include prosumer users, “but that’s not really how they generate revenues,” Gold said.

“By making Webex available on other platforms, like cars, they expect to have a remote work capability available to a variety of users,” he said, "and for business users to have a Webex platform somewhere in their internal systems (or available via the web) that Cisco licenses and generates revenues from."

With AirPlay support, users will be able to wirelessly connect Apple devices to share content or mirror their screens in a meeting with colleagues — whether in a meeting room or remote in a video call, Cisco said.

While Webex on phones and tablets is important, Gold said he’s not convinced many workers will use the remote Webex capability while in a car. “Clearly, they don’t want to be on video while driving, but audio participation is probably OK, even though many drivers getting easily distracted even when they have a phone conversation,” Gold said.

Cisco posted Youtube videos showing drivers making Webex audio-only conference calls on the road. Once a vehicle is parked, users can then access the full Webex videoconferencing experience.

Cisco also announced Webex Go, a new phone system that connects to any mobile device and enables users to add Webex Calling as a dedicated business line to a personal mobile phone for higher quality business calls and expanded collaboration features.

Webex Go will be generally available on March 31.