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Media Phones Flooding Market

Within the last week, Avaya and Polycom each introduced a new category of IP-based desktop telephone instrument. Both companies anointed their new instrument a media phone.Avaya's 9670G, in addition to a touch screen color display (noticeably larger than the other 9600 model display fields), can be used to access Web-based applications services without a peripheral application gateway. An application service example cited in the press release was weather conditions.

The new Polycom 1550 VVX goes Avaya's model one better by combining one-touch voice and video calling and integration with key communications-enabled business processes and applications. According to the press release, "The VVX 1500 also features a free Web service called My Info Portal through which customers can select to receive content such as local weather reports." Who knew there was such great demand for accessing weather reports from a desktop business telephone? It may be a more financially prudent option for station users to buy a much lower priced weather radio to know if there is a chance of precipitation later in the day.

Touch screen color displays are not uncommon for high-end IP telephone instruments. Integrated Web services capabilities have been available in IP telephone instruments since before mid-decade. Integrating video services into a telephone instrument goes back to the infamous AT&T videophone seen by millions at the New York Worlds Fair 45 years ago. Since then, numerous desktop videoconferencing telephones have come and gone, with mostly little success. The new "media" phones appear and function too similar to the current generation of IP telephones to warrant the creation of a new product category.

At a time when there is ongoing debate within the industry about whether wired desktop telephone instruments are on their last legs, destined to be replaced by soft phones and/or smart mobile communications devices, it is interesting that two companies would invest research and development dollars bringing to market relatively expensive media phones. I myself believe that shipments of high end desktop telephones may soon peak, and station users will increasingly turn to PCs and cellular phones as their primary interface to the enterprise communications system. Desktop telephone instruments such as the new media phones from Avaya and Polycom are likely to be confined to niche station user market segments (in no small measure due to the list prices in the vicinity of $1,000) despite an attractive set of attributes and capabilities.