On The Demise Of The Desk Phone

”The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” – Mark Twain

The demise of the desk phone has been rumored for some time now, but I’m not buying it.  Sure we have alternative choices today, in fact some really good options depending on the need and circumstance; but the operative word here is choice. 

Depending on the analyst, business journalist or even user, opinions vary on why the desk phone is no longer a tool that your business may consider “indispensable”.  Many a consumer has dropped their POTS connection in favour of personal cell phones, and any “road warriors” would be incapacitated without a cell phone or two.

Softphones are another common replacement option according to pundits.  Softphones are clearly an up-and-coming trend, as true unified communications have finally emerged as promised over the past decade.  I like UC, I understand the attraction with a softphone and have used one from time to time, but I’m not convinced they will render the desk phone obsolete. 

Jem Janik recently wrote about the desk phone as the “invisible technology” and how it just works. Like Ol’ Faithful – always there and on the ready. Like Jem, I love my cellphone.  It does everything well except for the one thing it was originally designed to do – carry a conversation.  It works, but even with the best of signals, audio is less than great and with just a bit of interference or other signal obstruction, delay and jitter become painful.  Combine a call with a cell phone with some IP phones and delays leave me wanting to finish my speaking turn with “full-stop” to signal that I’m done with my thought.  "Your turn.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all great options and alternatives to the good ol’ desk phone.  Like most, I sometimes wonder how I functioned without them.  But what seems to be to be the undercurrent of the desk phone debate is the assumption that it is a zero-sum game.  That a desk phone will always be just a phone, no longer required because new alternative tools handle the seemingly simple task of carrying a conversation, and then some.

Perhaps however, this is too narrow a framework for the conversation; perhaps our assumptions are incomplete.  Lets not forget that innovation is constantly undermining legacy assumptions, changing the conversation in technology and ultimately in our behavior and habits.

How about we reframe the debate just a little – what if your desk phone was more than what you assume it to be?  What if the hardline phone was transformed to resemble your tablet like the new Smart DeskPhone? And what if it offered users high-definition video and audio with the ability to add users to a visual and collaborative conversation within a virtual environment shared by all parties with real-time visual markup was enabled for all? 

The other aspect of the conversation that is often missed is the question of how people use phones as an extension of their role.  Just as road warriors are dependent on their cell phones and would never leave home without them, other employees have other business roles and needs that are best met by the phone on their desk.  They are not mobile and audio quality is the most important criteria. 

In a recent NoJitter story, Gary Audin cites research from Pew Research Center that validates the most important criteria for the desk phone vs. no desk phone debate. It depends on where you work, how you work and your role.  Form follows function; as communication becomes more personal and innovation continues, it’s hard to predict how much the desk phone will evolve, but I we can at least agree that Mark Twain would certainly not recognize them if he were here today.

Where do you stand on the debate?

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