Everyone who works in an office knows a physical whiteboard is a godsend. You can sketch out ideas as a team, document project timelines and track milestones. Most companies stick to the tried-and-true whiteboards that are decidedly low tech. You use dry erase markers, jot down the notes and then snap a photo with your phone.
A number of digital whiteboards have recently debuted, some with powerful features for saving your digital creations automatically, holding a video chat session and allowing you to hold an interactive meeting between remote offices. The costs are much higher than for the non-digital variety, though, so it's important to know the features and benefits that could help your business.
One of the most interesting new digital whiteboards is from Google. The Jamboard costs $4,999 (plus an optional stand that costs another $1,349), and there is a $600 annual fee. It is mostly for whiteboarding and does not currently support video calls. A key benefit, however, is once it's synced to your business Google account (known as G Suite), a remote user can participate in a whiteboarding session as though he or she were in the room.
Microsoft Surface Hub 2S
The Microsoft Surface Hub 2 is a giant conference room display that will be available in 50-inch and 85-inch versions with a 3:2 aspect ratio. It will be available beginning in 2019 for $8,999.99, but you can opt for extras that will boost that price tag to $12,000. It will feature an Intel 8th Gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB solid-state drive and front-facing three-way stereo speakers. There's even a battery you can slot into the case of a stand that will give you around two hours of battery life. There's a 4K camera that's powered by USB-C.
Another new model, called the Vibe Interactive Whiteboard, offers similar brainstorming features for drawing out ideas as a group but also works with apps like Skype for Business to hold a video conference call. The product ships in February and costs $2,499.
Samsung Flip is a third option that has one unique feature. As the name implies, the digital whiteboard flips from horizontal to vertical. It costs $2,699 for the display plus $799 for the stand. The Flip has no annual fees. It can also connect to a laptop to show Skype chats.
Do you need one?
It's important to think about your company's workflow when considering the need for a digital whiteboard. Most digital whiteboards offer some form of image-to-text conversion, but it can be unreliable. If you jot down highly technical notes during a meeting and your handwriting is not perfect, the conversion process might not work. The critical question is how often you need to capture the notes and brainstorming sessions from a meeting.
Here's one example of how this might work. For a small company of perhaps 10 to 15 employees, you might gather in a conference room four or five times per day. Some companies working on a mission-critical project may even meet more often than that. However, if meetings are typically not meant for brainstorming and often focus on discussion where no visual component is needed (such as designing a new office space or making a new app), a product like the Jamboard (at $4,999) or the Vibe (at half that price) might not make sense.
Some of the benefits to a digital whiteboard go beyond note-taking and image-to-text conversion. While you should think of a digital whiteboard as primarily an oversized tablet, they do serve a distinct purpose in unifying a discussion between remote offices. For example, the Google Jamboard uses Hangouts for conference calls that are seamless and fast.
If your company doesn't have any remote office, if you brainstorm infrequently or through other means (such as Slack or another collaborative app), or if you find that you rarely need to video conference, then a digital whiteboard will be overkill.
The best use case for a digital whiteboard is when your office workflow is all about shared ideas. Many companies collaborate in person constantly, and there are major time savings in having the digital whiteboard save all your notes and discussions automatically. This way, you can focus on the task at hand instead of capturing the discussion.