It's about time for a new type of office desk phone

Smartphones have gotten smarter, and most of us carry around a richly-featured device in our shirt pockets, capable of running apps, managing contacts, recognizing voices, and giving directions. And oh yes, making telephone calls, too. I've been wondering why the mobile phone is still so much smarter than the office desk VoIP phone. What's the next generation of office phone? Within the next few years, we're going to see the feature-rich VoIP phone get a lot more feature-rich, incorporating a lot of the same things we've gotten accustomed to on our pocket smartphones—like touchscreens, multiple apps, voice recognition, and maybe even videoconferencing.

It's somewhat peculiar that the telephony industry has evolved in such a way that the phone you carry in your pocket, is smarter than the phone that's on your desk at work. Intuitively, one would think it should be the other way around. "If you look at office communications, there's a lot you can do with the office phone. Because it's a larger device, it's plugged in constantly and you don't have to worry about your data rate, or whether you're in range. But for the most part, the office phone is just used for dialing," said Anthony Gioeli, CEO of CloudTC, a company that just happens to have just the type of office phone I've been dreaming of. "In your pocket, you have a device that is the fraction of the size of the office phone, but it can do so much more. And why is that? Shouldn't the desk phone be smarter than what we carry in our pockets?"

Both desktop and mobile have advanced, without a doubt—but mobile has advanced more quickly. Until VoIP of course, the state of the art for telephony never changed that much. The move from rotary dial to touch-tone was the biggest thing since Edison invented the first one in about 1876, and since then the pace of change has picked up dramatically, and VoIP ushered in a whole new world. Cheap international calling, a move away from the monopoly of the public switched telephone network, and all the advanced features that VoIP brings have served to make us feel good about our office phones.

But the office phone is still mostly tethered to the desk, there's no touchscreen, and it's really not an open platform that you can extend like you can with a mobile phone and a well-stocked app store. And the features that have been added, aren't always intuitive. We always think, for example, that conference calling has become ubiquitous, and a lot of VoIP platforms do offer conferencing. But consider this: Realistically, how many times have you been on the phone with somebody, and they want to conference in a third person…and the first thing they say is, "I'm going to try to conference them in, but I'll call you back if I lose you in the process." Why should that be? We have those features on the desktop, but most people don't know how to use them.

Yes, it's true you will have a manual, and the VoIP provider may even walk you through an online tutorial. My point though, is that the tutorial shouldn't be necessary. What I want is a phone where I can press one intuitive button to add a caller, and then press a contact button to conference in the third party. Is that too much to ask? Usually it's three or four steps.

CloudTC's Glass 1000 office phone is just the tip of the iceberg of a very major change in the industry. It looks and acts somewhat like a tablet computer with a handset. It's got a big touchscreen, and what's even more innovative, is that it's Android-based, and comes with a set of apps; and to take it to the next level, you can add other Android apps as well, just like you can with a mobile smartphone.

Gioeli's CloudTC is one of the very first to the table with this type of office phone innovation, but within a year you can expect the big boys to follow suit. Rotary dial gave way to touch-tone in the 1960s. Next year, touch-screen will replace touch-tone. It's already there for most mobile smartphones, it's not that big of a leap to expect that it will come to the desktop—my only question is, what took so long?

This story, "It's about time for a new type of office desk phone" was originally published by ITworld.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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