Eric Krapf
Eric Krapf is General Manager and Program Co-Chair for Enterprise Connect, the leading conference/exhibition and online events brand in the...
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Eric Krapf | January 17, 2013 |


Logitech Controls Softphone with Keyboard

Logitech Controls Softphone with Keyboard Need something between a soft client and a hard phone? Logitech believes its keyboard is just right.

Need something between a soft client and a hard phone? Logitech believes its keyboard is just right.

Here's one way to potentially get rid of the desk phone: Put the most convenient, ergonomic features of the phone into the PC keyboard, and make it control a soft client.

That's what Logitech has done in an integration with Cisco for the latter's Jabber client. Logitech today announced what it's calling the UC Solution for Cisco 725-C, the highlight of which is a USB keyboard that includes nine hard keys for the following telephony/video functions:

* Call answer/hang up
* Call hold
* Volume up/down
* Audio mute
* Video mute
* Audio selection key--speakerphone
* Audio selection key--headset
* Audio selection key--handset
* Voicemail messages

Here's what the keyboard looks like:

The red-outlined key at far left is the voice mail retrieval key; the green-outlined keys at top right are to answer a call (right) and put a call on hold (left). The red-outlined keys below them mute the video and audio. The little LCD screen to their immediate left displays Caller ID, and the 3 buttons to the left of the LCD screen let you choose your input device--headset, handset, or speaker phone. Red-outlined keys turn green when in use.

According to Eric Kintz, senior VP and GM at Logitech for Business, the likely use cases are in hot-desking environments, either generic office-hoteling type of setups, or industry vertical-specific cases. He says Logitech has been trialing the keyboard in health care and financial environments, where users like traders and nurses often share stations.

The emphasis was on designing an experiece that would be "dead simple" and take the functions that are easier to do manually than by hunting and clicking with a mouse, Kintz said.

The catch is that this keyboard works only with Cisco Jabber; if you have a mixed environment, its keys won't control, say, a Microsoft Lync or Avaya one-X soft client. Logitech may consider building a comparable product for these other companies, but there would need to be a broader standards effort to create a single keyboard that would work with all of them, Kintz said. For now, Cisco provides Logitech a strong enough addressable market: "Cisco is the leader in desk phones aand understands what makes a desk phone unique," Kintz said. "It's a large base to work with already."

So is this a significant advance in the evolution of Unified Communications? Probably it's more of an incremental step, maybe even a bit of a sidelight.

On the one hand, we all clamor for more innovation, more new options when it comes to the process of moving beyond the desk phone. This strikes me as a solid effort in that regard. Keyboard buttons can be a great, handy option; I constantly use the "back" and "forward" buttons on my keyboard to move between websites, rather than always navigating up to click on the browser button. Soft clients can be a real pain to navigate with a mouse--which is why touchscreens are so much better. So this keyboard could be a nifty little tool.

On the other hand, the fact that it only works with Cisco is definitely less than optimal. Eric Kintz's scenario about using the keyboard in a hoteling environment is probably the most logical usage for it--not because it's the best scenario for a multi-user desktop, but because it envisions a pretty static enterprise environment, specifically one where Cisco is rolled out as the standard and will be in place for some time to come.

The keyboard comes as part of a package that also includes a Logitech webcam and wireless mouse. The most noteworthy feature of the webcam is that it does video encoding internally, offloading this function from the PC/laptop's CPU. Eric Kintz said just the encoding is offloaded because decoding isn't particularly processor-intensive and so not that much would be gained by including it in the webcam hardware.

The complete bundle with keyboard, webcam and mouse will carry a suggested price of $269, and will be GA in March.

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