Talking Heads

Around brings floating heads to video chat right when we need them most

A more intimate and less obtrusive way to video conference with a group.


On Wednesday, a new video-conferencing app Around launched. With the working work increasingly telecommuting, its timing couldn't be better. But the market is crowded, and incumbents like Slack are launching updates to keep existing users loyal while attracting new ones. Around believes it has a unique selling point that could help it gain a foothold, though: floating heads.

Instead of traditional, full views of what the camera is picking up, Around uses AI to zoom-in on and track people’s faces. In addition to removing visual background noise, TechCrunch points out it removes sudden loud noises like sirens and prioritizes voices. The little face bubbles can be dragged around your desktop or laptop screen for easier multitasking. Around believes its solution makes it easier to multitask while also making video calls feel more engaging and personal.

Around is currently available as an invite-only beta for Mac, Windows, Linux, and web.

What else can Around do? — Like its competitors, Around highlights speaking participants, but unlike them, Around does it using AI and makes it more obvious when someone is talking by making their facial expressions more prominent.

Around is currently limited to 15 participants at once, so it’s not primed for full-blown enterprise use by large teams. Smaller remote teams, however, can still benefit from Around and can take advantage of its Slack integration. There’s also no mobile support right now, but the Around team hopes to change that in the future with mobile app dial-in and seamless transitions between a computer and a smartphone or tablet.

A new kind of video chat — Though different video conferencing apps offer slightly different premium features, they largely follow the same design format and underlying technology. By leveraging AI and rethinking what a video chat should look like, Around actually positions itself well in a field of giants.

“Google and large companies snag all the talent, plus they have the ability and scale to train audio-video professionals at universities in northern Europe,” Around CEO Dominik Zane told TechCrunch. “Talent wars are the biggest risk and obstacle for all real-time video companies.”

There’s already concern that Around might be acquired by Zoom or another major player in the space, which is a testament to its appeal. For now, though, we can enjoy the freemium features of an innovative startup — we certainly have the time.