Finnish Company Framery’s Futuristic Pod Beams Folks Into Lifelike Virtual Meetings

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It’s not easy to make video conferencing technologies seem sexy and futuristic. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the planet, offices around the world were already beginning to normalize the use of applications like Zoom to make meetings between colleagues in different locations retain a sense of face-to-face camaraderie, even if it was just a digital imitation.

But the debate over remote work continues to rage on at companies big and small, and it is oftentimes punctuated by the limitations to video communication. “Zoom fatigue” is real. Video and audio glitches can easily interrupt the flow of conversation and force people to waste minutes repeating themselves. Many people spend more time looking at their own screen versus the speaker’s face, creating opportunities to simply zone out. It’s too easy to get distracted and pull up Slack or Gmail or other apps. And ultimately video conferencing simply can’t emulate the intimacy and charm of having a conversation face-to-face. As a result, critical information that can only be read in body language and other non-verbal cues can get lost in the digital translation.

When Finnish tech company Framery invited me to join them for a tech demo to test what they heralded as a solution to our remote work woes hosted by the Finnish consulate in New York City a few weeks ago, I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew the company specialized in acoustics, and was famous for its very sleek and impressive office phone booth “pods” that afforded privacy and pristine work environments while looking incredibly modern.

But now Framery told me it had developed something that would change videoconferencing, knocking down many of the aforementioned sources of friction people had while more closely simulating a real, face-to-face conversation better than any technology before it.

Introducing: the Framery Contact. Adorned in a black casing, the new pod is an experience that feels more futuristic than modern, and its video conferencing technology really makes it feel as if you’re sitting down in a real, physical conversation with someone else. The experience was so lifelike that it looked as though the person I was speaking to was in the room with me.

Though the Contact pod looks quite big from the outside, the inside feels pretty cozy and snug, replete with a black interior interrupted only by a soft LED lighting. A swivel chair sits on one end of the pod, across from a very large screen situated in a vertical orientation, not unlike a body mirror for the bedroom. To your side sits a small table where you can place a notebook or laptop, but the experience of Contact is meant to discourage the use of other materials and instead have you focus on the screen in front of you.

That’s not at all hard to do. When there’s no one on the other end of the call, the onscreen presentation is just a reflection of yourself as seen by the camera, and it’s simply stunning. The visual quality practically makes you forget you’re not looking at a mirror. Once a call is placed and the other participant shows up, you might very easily forget they are not sitting on the other end. The experience lines things up so eye contact between the users is leveled out. Sound quality feels crisp.

My first session in the Contact pod was a 10-minute call with Arto Vahvanen, the head of digital offerings at Framery who was speaking with me from Finland. The full-body screen meant speaking with Vahvanen avoided the laptop talking head experience of Zoom, and instead it felt like I was speaking with a human being. You can’t see your screen during calls either, so you’re not baited into simply staring at yourself. And the combination of the dark background and precise lighting keeps the focus on just the other person you’re communicating with.

But the Contact pod isn’t perfect—one look at the price tag will have most companies appreciating their Zoom plan (planned price for Contact is around expected to be over $26,000.) Also, my call with Vahvanen suffered from a bit of lag in our last minute as we said our goodbyes, so things are still subject to connectivity issues.

Plus, there are basic tools found on almost every video conferencing platform worth its salt that can’t be found with the Connect. For example, the inability to pull up other applications on screen means working on, say, a presentation together or trying to pull up a document to read in tandem has to still be done on a laptop. The current version of the pods are also solely for one person to call from at the moment. There are many kinds of work meetings where the pods simply won’t work.

According to Inka Saxholm, the marketing manager at Framery, that’s kind of the whole point—the new pods aren’t supposed to outright replace video conferencing applications like Zoom. It is, instead, supposed to emulate the face-to-face experience in instances where long distances make it difficult or impossible—like a final interview with a job candidate. Instead of having to fly someone out on an expensive last-minute flight, a meeting through Contact pods could suffice.

That’s such a tiny use case, though, that it’s hard to see most businesses—even if they do have $26,000 burning a hole in their pocket—wanting to pull the trigger on the Contact. Still, it’s a pretty remarkable experience, and it’s easy to see why some companies would be excited to jump on it. Making a video call often fills people with a deep sense of aversion. Saxholm explained at the Contact pod demo that the company does a lot of internal behavioral science work to learn how to optimize its products and figure out the ideal kind of features that create the least amount of friction for users.

“A lot of our team is devoted to learning exactly how to make these experiences exciting,” she told The Daily Beast. “There’s research that goes into this.” Rather than glomming onto buzzy new technologies that have yet to prove themselves in the workplace (read: the metaverse), Contact instead fits well with Framery’s larger vision of making tried-and-true innovations better.

Framery hopes to crystalize his idea by making more demos available for people to try Contact out. It plans to showcase Contact in Chicago and elsewhere later in the year, and it has already made Contact available to its first pilot customers. If it lives up to the hype, it’s likely that one of Finland’s biggest new firms might find itself in the spotlight for innovating the future of work.

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