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Take My Phone, Please

Many predicted that softphones and mobile phones would kill off the desktop phone, but it hasn't happened (completely). The desk phone seems destined to survive, but it's in need of a major overhaul. This isn't a particularly new thought.

Back in 2011, I advocated for change in "Time to Re-Invent the Desk Phone." Unfortunately, the desk phone remains stuck in time. This is partially because the makers of endpoints and call control are often different now, but that's no excuse. We need to raise the bar.

Blast from the Past
The modern, state-of-the-art IP phone has changed little since that 2011 post. As a matter of fact, in use and design it's changed very little from the telephones of the 1950s. This is inexcusable for an industry that has experienced year-over-year dynamic disruption and change.

If an executive could travel from 1950 to 2017, he or she would be mystified by the calculator, PC, smartphone, thin color display, webcam, and color printer, but would be quite at home with the desktop phone... and would have no trouble placing a call.

How can this be? Communications technology has never been so advanced. We live our lives between mobile and desktop displays. Many of the technorati don't even have a desktop phone any more -- the desktop phone is an embarrassing portal to the past.

I believe the desktop phone will be here a while. Not because it's particularly useful, but because technologies rarely completely die in telecommunications. And the phone is, after all, an always-on, fit-for-purpose, intuitive device.

Desk Phone... and So Much More
But the modern endpoint doesn't have to be relegated to inconsequentiality. Like I said, the phone is an always-on, connected device in an ever-connected world. It should be updated to enable modern workstyles.

For example, why isn't the IP phone a Wi-Fi access point? Wi-Fi connectivity is more important than ever. The industry seems to be moving from large centralized radios to smaller, more distributed solutions. This could be particularly useful in hotels.

Then there's the whole Internet of Things angle -- the modern enterprise (and home) is turning to IoT devices for smarter facilities and increased security. Why not load the modern IP phone with sensors? Adding a handful of sensors to the IP endpoint would be inexpensive yet could provide invaluable information. If the modern IP phone could be equipped to sense Bluetooth, temperature, motion, and light, numerous new compelling use cases regarding HVAC and security would appear.

The phone is inherently an audio device. Most desktop computers are equipped with low-end speakers and a microphone. If the modern IP phone had the ability to connect to a computer, it could provide better acoustics. Modern IP phones should have audio connections for PCs. As an added bonus, it could turn-down computer audio, such as music, during calls

For that matter, why not share the webcam on a PC or laptop with the phone? Few desktop phones have cameras in part because of the low angle. The webcam on top of a PC or laptop display is at a better camera height. Most UC systems already support video, so borrowing a desktop's camera is an all-around win. It would be nice if vendors could create a more symbiotic relationship between the PC and phone.

Historically, the phone was a proprietary terminal on a closed network, slaved to a proprietary server known as the PBX. It's a different world today, and everything is meant to play with everything else.

Also, the phone's display should be viewed as a corporate resource. Phones don't move around as much as laptops. Rather than rely solely on apps, organizations could leverage the phone's display as a separate, controlled screen. They could provide access to various enterprise information systems such as CCTV, HVAC controls, conference room booking systems, security portal, or workflow-related information.

There was a time when the desk phone rightly looked down upon the mobile phone due to its superior quality and reliability. Thanks to OPUS and multiple wireless technologies, those roles are largely reversed now, and it's time for the desktop phone to kiss up to the smartphone. For example, the desk phone should pair with the smartphone (like a Buick does) to offer its larger handset and speaker as a smartphone peripheral. IP phones should offer a USB charging port (or wireless charging pad) to its more favored sibling. It's not too late to even offer up a 3.5-mm headphone jack either.

Nice Touch
From an actual phone point of view, the modern IP phone is just dumb. Sure there are exceptions, but overall, physical phones are much dumber than softphones. There's no need for this disparity as both are software-based. It would be nice if, for example, more physical phones offered one-touch record. I'd still like to see two hold buttons on hard phones, one with music and one silent for times when you need to place a conference on hold.

There's been plenty of innovation in desktop phones. The latest and greatest models now have operating systems, larger screens, and some even support third-party apps. But the basic role of the phone hasn't evolved nearly as much as everything around it. I'd like to see the desktop phone reinvented instead of slightly improved. Everything around it has become smarter and more connected -- so let's reexamine this always-on, connected, appliance.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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