Do Tablets Signal Extinction for Desk Phones?

April 12, 2012 - 7 Comments

I read an interesting post on No Jitter yesterday that poses the question, “The End of the Desk Phone?” The author suggests that the era of the desk phone is coming to a close. The gist is that tablets are essentially going to take over the known universe and send desk phones the way of the Studebaker.

Like a lot of people, the author is particularly fond of Apple iPads and positions them as the ideal phone eliminator. Once upon a time a lot of people said the same thing about microwave ovens vs. regular stoves. Didn’t happen. Sure, I can make popcorn with a lot less fuss and muss, but convenient though it may be, it’s not the tool for baking a chicken – or better yet, chocolate chip cookies.

One of the things I like about working in the technology industry is that there’s always something new. And sometimes that something new has a big impact, but rarely does it completely obliterate everything that came before it. It takes awhile to figure out how the latest bright shiny object really fits into the mix. During the front end of that figuring-out process, the expectations are often set pretty darned high, along the lines of “the most incredible knife offer ever,” Ginsu knives. But do you really want to cut a tin can and slice a tomato with your tablet?

I shared the article with Roberto de la Mora, a senior director on our team, to get his thoughts. Here’s a bit of our exchange:

This isn’t the first time someone decided the desk phone was slated for extinction. Do you think it’s time for me to rearrange my desk to make way for an iPad instead of my desk phone?

Roberto: In 2001 or so when the first commercially available softphones came to market, lots of people thought that the desk phones were done. The prediction was that most people just would have a softphone in their PC and a headset — that’s it. It didn’t happen that way.

Fifteen months ago, Cisco announced the shipment of our 30 millionth IP phone. Soon we’ll reach the 50 million mark. We’re shipping about 3 million units per quarter. There are those who think that the desk phone is done, but the statistics are not on their side.

We can’t argue the fact that voice technology is moving onto more devices.

Roberto: Agreed. There is no question there. With the availability of more and better instant-messaging clients, the softphone is getting a boost, not only on PCs but on mobile devices as well.

From smartphones to tablets, clients like Cisco Jabber are making inroads and IM and presence are quickly becoming the “dial tone” of this new age. But for those applications to work you still need to have your device on, and the software running (true from the PC to the smartphone).

So what happens when you are not working with your tablet or your smartphone and someone wants to call you? What if you are indeed working with your device but you do not have the application running? Most smartphones and tablets let you have a small number of apps running in the background, so if you switch back and forth between several applications, your client may stop working without you knowing about it.

I do like the ability to jump into a voice session from an IM chat though.

Roberto: IM is one thing, and enterprise-grade telephony is another. Gartner just released a report commenting that users of IM clients are quickly realizing that having voice in the IM client is not the same as having telephony, particularly enterprise-grade telephony.

Voice is point to point. Telephony is much more than that. From simple things like caller ID to integration to with company directories and a corporate dial plan, toll bypass, long-distance calling, class of service, class of restriction, function-specific features, conferencing, transfers, hold, and beyond.

Telephony features do not exist without a reason. They respond to the needs of many different types of users within a company, to think that one-size-fits-all is the strategy to follow is not only limiting, but can be dangerous. The features that I need as an information worker are different from the those a contact center agent needs, different from those an executive assistant needs, a lobby ambassador, an operator, etc.

People put a lot of faith into their tablets and put a lot of “stuff” on them. To me, it’s a lot of eggs in one basket.

Roberto: Always-on access to a reliable device that does not share memory or processing power with other applications looking to grab as much resources as possible from the device is not a minor thing. If you need to call an emergency number, are you going to take your tablet, swipe, look for the app, log in, and then dial? Good luck with that.

We are living a post-PC era, but that does not mean that now we are going to live in the tablet-only era. Just like the PC is not the only device, the tablet is not “it” either.

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  1. A tablet can be used as a deskphone even for video
    this is less handy but you have a unique swiss army knife.
    This is a new option for nomads, mobility changes the picture.

    You have audio, im and VIDEO at your fingertips.


  2. Very neat article post.Much thanks again.

  3. When Roberto said we’d ship the 50 millionth IP phone “soon,” he wasn’t kidding. Guess what we announced today? The shipment of the 50 millionth desk phone!

  4. There would be a substitute, but extinction is still questionable

  5. Thanks, interesting discussion. Could you please let me know which Gartner report Roberto is referring to?

    • Thanks for the comment. It is indeed an interesting topic these days. Roberto was referring to one of the key findings of a recent report from Gartner called “Microsoft Lync: Enterprise Telephony Acceptance and Adoption Projections,” by Megan Marek Fernandez and Bern Elliot.

  6. A co-worker shared this with me after reading the post. While iPads don’t quite slice and dice, apparently they’re great in the kitchen anyway: