Apple unveiled some speedy new Macs this week. But many of us were distracted by current events. Note to Tim Cook and other leaders: you won’t be selling many computers during a general strike. Or a civil war. Speak out.
The Plain View
A lot of people have asked Phil Libin why the name for his new product is so ridiculous. So much so that he’s made up a list of five fake facts to explain why he burdened his innovative virtual conferencing enhancement with a name like Mmhmm. (First fake fact: He likes palindromes. Second: It saves money on vowels.) The real reason, he admits, is that it’s part of a design philosophy based on drawing attention. “So maybe it’s a great name, maybe it’s a terrible name,” says Libin, whose previous startup, Evernote, had a more conventional moniker. “Actually, it’s probably a little bit of both, but is definitely not a boring name.”
Name aside, it’s not a boring product. Mmhmm (even my spell checker hates the name!) is a wonderful enhancement to the dull video meeting products that we’ve been chained to since the Working From Home era began in March. “Eight months ago, what percentage of every school, club, or company had to do important stuff over video?” he says “Less than 1 percent! But now and in the future, close to 100 percent of every organization is going to have to do something on a regular basis over video.”
Libin’s solution is to transform the computer camera into a virtual television studio. It runs on top of Zoom, Google Meetings, and other video conferencing apps. Instead of giving presentations by turning your screen over to your PowerPoint deck, Mmhmm puts you at a virtual anchor’s desk, with the slides over your shoulder, like Saturday Night Live or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Or you can put your slides in the background with your video image in the foreground, like a weather person in front of a green screen. When we watch television, we see actors and athletes and musicians use pro tools to great effect. “We can give those same superpowers to everyone else, who doesn’t have a production team and an editing studio,” says Libin.
This came at a timely moment for me, as I had committed to doing a series of talks organized by the JBC (Jewish Book Council) Network, which sends authors to community centers across the country. Or used to—in the Covid era, the talks are virtual. Seeking to avoid the ordeal of lecturing to my screen for 30 minutes, I tried a beta version of Libin’s whaddyacallit and had fun with colorful backgrounds, over-the-shoulder slides that aspired to Daily Show wit, and a green screen trick that let me continue my talk in the fourth square of the recent Brady Bunch–style congressional testimony feed of Zuckerberg, Pichai, and Bezos. I knew I’d won when the rabbi hosting the event asked where he could get a copy of that software. (Starting this week, anyone can get it—it’s out of beta and costs $10 a month or $100 a year, or you can use a limited free version. Students and educators get the full version, no charge.)