Perch’s new iOS app aims to bring ambient video presence to the office

Those awkward couple of minutes that it takes for everyone to adjust their microphones and cameras on a video conference call? Vancouver-based ambient video startup Perch wants to do away with them.
“Teleconferencing as we know it today is a very heavy process,” Perch CEO Danny Robinson told me during a recent interview. Perch wants companies to instead embrace its low-maintenance, always-on, bring your own device video presence app, which it is getting ready to release for iOS this week.
Here is how Perch works: Offices simply install the app on an iPad and mount the iPad to the wall, at a spot that’s accessible to everyone. Then they connect it to a remote Perch-enabled office, something that’s called a portal in Perch lingo. Both iPads start streaming video right away, but won’t transmit any sound until the app detects a face looking straight into the camera.
For an admittedly very promotional demo, check out this video provided by Perch:
The facial detection is a big part of Perch’s pitch. Robinson told me that the app doesn’t want employees to feel like they’re being spied on, but instead give them the assurance that they’re in charge. “The goal was to make the technology feel polite,” he told me.
That notion also continues in Perch’s second use case, which is its very own take on video calling. Users can also install the app on their phone, and then dial into a portal.
The kicker: The person or office being called sees the caller’s live video feed even before they accept the call, but not the other way around. It’s kind of like looking through the peephole before you open a door, and Robinson described it as surprisingly disarming. After all, you don’t have to worry all that much about getting on a video call if you see that your boss is underdressed too.
Perch didn’t really start with business use in mind. The company began building an iOS-based security system, but changed course and embraced ambient video when it saw that its users talked to each other every day. Robinson told me that Perch still wants to encourage the use of its app in the home, but that it’s a bit tougher sell to get families to turn an iPad into a dedicated Perch device.
In the corporate world, on the other hand, this turns out to be a minor expense, with a potential big upside. Not only can companies replace formal teleconferences with more impromptu conversations, Perch could also help to break down boundaries between distributed teams. “It makes everybody feel connected,” said Robinson.