At first glance, Jamboard looks like a hardware product. And it is. As a 55-inch digital whiteboard, Google sells the BenQ-made Jamboard with two styluses, an eraser, and a wall mount for $4,999, plus a $600 per year management and support fee. You can even add a rolling stand, if you like, for $1,349. In June 2018, Google announced discounted Jamboard pricing for educators that eliminated the recurring fees: G Suite for Education customers can purchase a Jamboard with management and support for a one-time fee of $5,600.
But Jamboard is also software–more precisely, collaborative whiteboard software. Google added Jamboard as a core G Suite service in January 2018. If you’re a G Suite administrator, this means that Google supports the Jamboard service alongside all of the other core apps, such Gmail, Calendar, Drive, and Hangouts Meet, among others.
Google enables the Jamboard service by default for everyone who uses G Suite. To adjust Jamboard availability, a G Suite administrator can sign in to the Admin console at admin.google.com, then go to Apps > G Suite > Jamboard Service > Edit service > then turn it on or off for everyone in your organization, or for specific organizational units.
Importantly, you can use the Jamboard software without the Jamboard device. The Android and iPad tablet apps let you do almost everything you can do on the physical Jamboard device. With G Suite and the Jamboard app on a tablet, you have a collaborative whiteboard with you wherever you go. (As of June 2018, the Android and iPad phone apps allow access to fewer features.) The Android app also works on Chromebooks that support Android apps. You may view Jam files in a browser at https://jamboard.google.com, as well.
Jamboard offers four drawing pens and six different colors, along with a standard eraser, as well as a shape selector you can use to cut-and-move a selected section. You can add a note, insert a photo, or insert one of about 13 emoji-like icons (e.g., thumbs up, thumbs down, a green checkmark, or a pointing finger, among others) or a similar number of shapes (e.g., a speech bubble, device outlines, or storyboard layouts).
The following five features make the Jamboard tablet app especially useful for G Suite users.
1. Handwriting, shape, and sketch recognition
As the last three items shown on the draw menu, these three features highlight Google’s machine learning expertise. Choose “Aa,” then write–print or cursive–and Jamboard will attempt to turn your scrawled letters into typed text. Or, select the icon of the square and circle, and the systems will auto-recognize shapes to turn your imperfect round line into a perfect circle.
But the most impressive feature is AutoDraw, which functions somewhat like auto-correct for sketches: Draw something that looks vaguely like a common object, and the system will suggest a host of images that you can scroll through, left to right. Tap one, and the selected image will replace your rough sketch.
2. Insert from Drive
You can insert Docs, Sheets, Slides, or images (including GIFs) from your Google Drive into Jamboard. Select the + icon, then tap the Google Drive image. Search or browse through your Google Drive, then drag-and-drop a file from Google Drive to your Jam to add it.
After you’ve added a multi-page (or multi-slide) item from Drive into your Jam, tap twice on it. That opens up a mini-viewer that you can use to scroll through your document. You can scroll through the pages (or slides), then tap-and-drag a specific page into your Jam file.
3. Search, select, insert
Jamboard also includes a mini-browser, that lets you enter a URL or search term to browse to a web page. Tap the scissor icon, then select the portion of the web page that you want to add to your board. Tap the green “Enter” box to add the selected section into your Jam file.
4. Boards and backgrounds
Unlike a physical whiteboard in a conference room, a single Jam file lets you add additional boards. Just tap the right arrow at the top of the screen to add another board.
To move an item from one screen to another, long-press on the item you want to move, until the item shows a thick green border around it, then drag the item to the right or left side of the screen. When you get to your desired destination board and position, lift your finger.
You can re-arrange boards, too. Tap once on the top of the screen, where the small icons represent each of your boards. Then tap-and-hold on any board, then drag it right or left to change the order of boards. While still in this view, you can also modify your board background. Tap the square in the lower right of the mini-board image, then select from one of six different backgrounds.
5. Collaborate, share and present
Since Jamboard is a collaborative tool, you can add people to a Jam while it is open by tapping the three vertical-dot menu in the upper right, then “Add people.” People you invite will receive an invitation to join your Jam file. You can also export your Jam as a PDF (with each board in the Jam being a page in the PDF) or share a single board from your Jam as an image.
And, you can present your Jamboard to Hangouts Meet. Choose “Present to meeting”, then tap in the Meeting ID. (Typically this is a series of ten letters separated into groups by two hyphens.) Unlike when you present a static slide, people in the meeting will see your Jamboard live.
It’s this last feature, for me, that makes Jamboard immensely useful for organizations that use G Suite. The Jamboard apps give you access to an always-accessible collaborative whiteboard you can share with your team. It takes the whiteboard from the conference room and puts it into the device in your bag.
Update: Now, you can use many of these Jamboard features from your smartphone, too. The updated Jamboard phone apps for Android and iOS allow you to draw, add notes or images, and insert content from Google Drive, among other features.
Your experience with Jamboard?
Have you tried Jamboard from your iPad or Android tablet? What’s your experience been with the app? Or have you used the Jamboard device? Let me know what your experience with Jamboard has been–either in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber)!