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Poly: A Journey Through History and Innovation

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

In this age of multi-media technology and connectedness, audio plays an important role. We use it to talk to loved ones over the phone, check in during a work conference call, and even share vital information with first responders. One brand that has contributed much to the current audio capabilities is Poly, formerly known as Plantronics. The company’s fascinating history tells us a lot about our world and how it wouldn’t be the same without audio communications.

Poly: A Journey Through History and Innovation

Origins of Plantronics (1950s and 1960s)

Founded in a Santa Cruz garage in 1961 by two airline pilots, Plantronics had an ambitious start. At the time, pilots had limited choices for communications headsets; those commercially available were clunky and uncomfortable to wear. When Courtney Graham, a United Airlines pilot, heard that his company was openly soliciting ideas for an upgraded headset design, he enlisted the help of his friend Keith Larkin.

The two worked to submit a design based on Larkin’s experience importing glasses with tiny radios inside. While the submission wasn’t practical for United’s pilots, the two worked on another concept that more closely resembled today's lightweight headsets. After United approved this initial idea in 1962, the pair began work as Pacific Plantronics, Inc. and launched the MS-50 headset as a first product. Not only did the headsets become the basis for a slightly modified air traffic control headset, but the technology was soon sought out by other industries - including astronauts.

Origins of Plantronics (1950s and 1960s)

NASA had experienced a loss of contact during the 1961 Liberty Bell 7 mission, where a splashdown almost took the life of a command pilot. Vowing to never lose radio contact again, it worked with ITT labs for a radio transceiver solution with Pacific Plantronics’s MS-50 headset as part of the technology kit. The reception of the headset was so favorable that astronauts requested the company place the headset directly into their helmets. NASA awarded a contract for this purpose, and NASA history was made. When the Apollo 8 and 10 missions successfully sent spacecraft to orbit the moon, Plantronics was there. It was also there when Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969. As he spoke the famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” it was spoken through a Plantronics headset.

Innovation and growth (1970s and 1980s)

With its NASA affiliation paving the way for a bright future, the team at Plantronics took new ideas into the age of cordless phone technology. The brand focuses on helping people make calls for their work and personal lives without the hassle of cords and wires. One invention, the StarSet® headset, aimed to help business professionals make hands-free calls using an over-the-ear design and a tube that carried vocal sounds. The company also pioneered new technology to keep wearers on a call, even after they left their workstations.

The products weren’t just aimed at call center agents; busy executives were starting to incorporate these gadgets into their workdays, and Plantronics’s reputation continued to shine. The 80s marked the use of infrared to send signals, much like how TV remotes work, and introduced another unique market offering by the brand.

The digital age (1990s and 2000s)

The 1990s introduced a great time of tech transformation. With the internet becoming more commonplace in American schools, businesses, and even homes, the need for cordless technology became apparent. Plantronics used its expertise to create a line of wireless office headsets, leaving professionals free to walk around while chatting and giving homemakers the space to juggle daily tasks.

Analog was a thing of the past, and as the demand for flexible and adaptive technology grew, so did Plantronics’s offerings. It entered the gaming market in 1999 with headsets made specifically for players. Its DSP-500 headsets even included a built-in digital signal processor. When it collaborated with Microsoft to create the Xbox Communicator in 2002, it changed the way gamers chatted with one another. Xbox Live users, including Halo 2 fans, continued to purchase the products as part of exciting brand campaigns.

Unified communications era (2010s)

The jump from analog to digital wasn’t the first hurdle for Plantronics to scale. It needed to quickly get into the game of unified communications (UC). This newest category of technology incorporated more than just voice over internet protocol (VOIP); it also included the ability to use click-to-dial and other application functions. UC headsets in a call center, for example, could block noise when an agent is on a call and then open up the sound again when the call ends. These thoughtful features changed the game for companies that could include them, and Plantronics met these new requirements well. The Voyager UC headset offered a boom-less microphone as well as compatibility with Bluetooth on a mobile device and a computer. This versatility ensured businesses could quickly ramp up new call center workers to whatever technology was at hand, and it reduced infrastructure costs.

Short History from 1990 to 2014

1990 – Co-founded by Brian Hinman and Jefree Rodman in a San Francisco basement. 1992 – The world meets the first Polycom SoundStation conference phone. The company earns $1.4 million in revenue, has about 20 customers and 50 employers. 1993 – The American Bar Association applauds Polycom SoundStation for overcoming the rattled paper syndrome. 1994 – SoundStation is introduced in the UK. The first Pacific headquarters opens in Singapore. Hibino Corporation becomes the first reseller. 1995 – Presents the Mayor of San Jose with its 50 000th SoundStation conference call. 1996 – Listed on NASDAQ 1997 – Ships the Polycom ShowStation, the first document conferencing projector with live annotation. Polycom SoundStation Premier Conference wins “Audio product of the year” by the International Teleconferencing Association. 1998 – Polycom re-enters the video market through acquisition of Viavideo and introduces ViewStation. It reaches $100 million in annual revenue. 1999 – Polycom SoundStation conference phone wins “Design of the decade” silver medal. 2000 – Partners with Global Nomads Group to promote cultural tolerance. The ViaVideo desktop device is released and transformed into software-based Polycom PVX 2001 Polycom begins a relationship with Medical Missions for Children. The company enters VoIP desktop phone business and launches SoundPoint IP 500. 2002 – Polycom China deploys the world’s largest IP video communication network. 2003 – First HD Voice product – SoundStation VTX 1000 triples the audio clarity of conventional narrowband voice. Movie director of the Lord of The Rings uses Polycom to communicate with his crew during the production of the trilogy. The SARS epidemic in Asia shows the importance of video collaboration. 2004 – Unveils original Practitioner Cart based on VSX codecs. Introduces SoundStation 2 speakerphones and Polycom Convene. Earns $500 million in revenue for fiscal 2004. 2005 – Introduces High Definition Video Collaboration. 2007 – Wins Internet Telephony Magazine’s “2007 Product of the Year” for CX Product Family for Microsoft OCS 2007 and for Polycom HDX 8000. 2008 – Unveiles Converged Management Application and Distributed Media Application for multipoint video in the enterprise. 2009 – Brings HD video to the Practitioner Cart. 2010 – Wins its seventh “Product of the Year” award from Internet Telephony. Announces strategic relationship with Microsoft. 2011 – Wins SIGOL Online Learning Award. Acquires ViVu, Inc., accelerating strategy to embed video in social business vertical applications. Polycom is named Microsoft Unified Communications Partner of the Year. Introduces Polycom CX7000, the first room video collaboration solution custom built for full integration with Microsoft Lync. Reports $1.5 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2011. Introduces RealPresence Platform and launches RealPresence Mobile. 2012 – Unveils Cloud Strategy and announces RealPresence Cloud. Polycom foundation announces partnership with Right to Play, an international humanitarian organization. Extends RealPresence Mobile to smartphones. Wins Edison Award for RealPresence Mobile solution. Unveils new brand identity. 2013 – RealPresence CloudAXIS Suite extends Polycom video conferencing to virtually anyone with a browser and a web camera. Petar Leav joins as President and CEO. Ships 10 millionth audio device. 2014 – Polycom releases RealPresence One, virtualized and subscription based solution that fits organizations of all sizes. Polycom partners start selling RealPresence Cloud Video Meeting Services. Expends portfolio of solutions for Microsoft Lync with CX5500 and CX5100, the industry’s first 1080p HD, 360 degree panoramic view camera, and Polycom CX800 Lync Room System.

The birth of Poly (Late 2010s to today)

Bigger can sometimes be better, as evidenced by the merger of Plantronics and Polycom in 2018. Soon after, in 2019, the company left behind the consumer and gaming markets to pursue a more comprehensive enterprise product category. After the merger, the brand changed its name to “Poly” to highlight the strengths of both brands in their new partnership. Products under the new Poly name include high-quality videoconference tools and solutions to keep hybrid workers more productive and comfortable. The new headsets, for example, come in both corded and wireless options. The company also makes low-profile earbuds that can be used in an office setting, at home, or when out on a jog.

By embracing the many roles that today’s professionals play every day, the Poly product suite offers thoughtful solutions that work seamlessly throughout all of life's moments. These durable and aesthetically pleasing solutions are made with professional use in mind. Speakerphones and videoconference accessories also help round out the full line of Poly gear.

Since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made that giant leap in 1969, much has changed. Our spirit of innovation has not. In March 2018 we acquired Polycom, bringing together the world’s leading headset provider with the world’s leading video and audio conferencing company. And we’re still in the business of taking giant leaps for mankind — just last year, our headsets helped Virgin Hyperloop make history in the first successful test of hyperloop technology with passengers.

Today, all Fortune 500 companies rely on Poly. Poly is creating beautifully designed and engineered video and audio products that let you be seen and heard with incredible clarity, wherever you work also helping reimagine how education, financial services, healthcare — even governments — can securely collaborate and reach their audiences. Poly make it possible for today’s remote workers to look and sound their best with the industry’s first professional-grade personal video conferencing equipment, the Poly Studio P Series. And we’re giving customers greater confidence as they return to their offices with anti-microbial technology embedded in devices and video conferencing appliances that support touch-free meetings.

Impact on the industry

What do you think when you hear the name “Plantronics?” You likely think of headsets. That’s because the brand (even in its new generation of “Poly”) has done a great job of establishing itself as “the” audio technology leader. If it’s good enough for astronauts, it will likely be good enough for your typical office setting; or, at least, that's been the thinking for decades now. But consider how the brand started from a need in the market. When an airline needed something lighter, more comfortable, and reliable, the Poly team delivered, even if it took an iteration


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