Time to Re-Invent the Desk Phone
It is time to re-invent the desk phone. It's long overdue for a major refresh. Here are some suggestions of what needs to be included in the redesign.
I have attended quite a few conferences in the past six months, and one recurring topic of conversation is: When will the desk phone die? The question is prompted by the fact that both the Mobile phone and the softphone offer significantly more capability. Nonetheless, desktop phones aren’t dead yet, nor even show signs of disappearing.
Telephones are getting less expensive, and tend to last a long time with relatively minor recurring TCO. Some manufacturers are seeing telephone sales increase--Mitel, for example, indicated that a recent quarter was its best ever for telephone set sales.
The reason the conversation keeps recurring is because no one likes the available choices. The most powerful mobile devices become bricks without frequent and near-constant power. They also are known to disappear or hide when needed, and every office seems to have dark spots where they fail. Softphones, on desktop computers, have a nasty habit of logging/turning-off. Softphones are also generally paired with headsets, and people don’t like to share headsets (as if handsets are germ free). Meanwhile, desktop phones are stuck in the past--a time traveler from 1950 would have no problem operating today's phones (well, at least as intuitively as we work them). We need a new choice--a modern desk phone.
While the desk phone has come a long way in its construction and technology, our expectations of what our desk phone can do remain largely unchanged. Of course, there are some exceptions--video phones, conference saucers, and other specialized devices--but for the most part, we just don't expect much from our desk phones. The desk phone is used to make/receive calls, pretty simple--stepping beyond redial, speaker, and hold is begging for trouble. "I will try to transfer you, but I might lose you" is an expression frequently uttered by people quite capable in a broad array of other tasks. So common that our response is typically one of sympathy rather than outrage.
It is time to re-invent the desk phone. It's long overdue for a major refresh. Here are some suggestions of what needs to be included in the redesign:
Buttons: Gone. I will give credit to Steve Jobs here, but buttons are clunky. They had their time, but just don't make sense any more. Capacitive touch screens are not only more elegant, but enable context-based options--for example, "hold" should only be an option during an in-call state. Also, as most current phones are sticking a large screen on top of a set of keys, desk phones are getting too darn big. In the past, more buttons meant a fancier phone. Some vendors even describe their models by button count. Buttons are for suckers; time to reverse the logic: the fewer the buttons the fancier the phone.
Intuitive Soft Buttons: Despite what I just said above, it would seem that buttons must be very expensive as manufacturers were careful not to provide more than necessary. My little pocket size mobile has a far more functional keyboard than my toaster sized desktop phone.How about a backspace key? How about separate keys for each letter of the alphabet? I also think some basic punctuation (.,!?@!$#%&*()) would be nice, just in case we ever use our desk phones for short messaging--all right, a full case-capable keyboard is necessary (on a soft screen). Some basic phone-specific buttons would be nice too such as 911, page, intercom, volume, address book, and calculator (anything with a number pad should be basic calculator). Although, I still don't understand why computer keyboards don't have keys for "save" or "print".