Smartphones and Tablets: Desk phone killers?

Although most corporate employees still use computers and desk phones for communications, smartphones and tablets are increasingly replacing them, a study found. (Ben Schamisso)

With companies constantly trying to increase employees’ productivity while reducing telephony costs, a multitude of competing services on smartphones, tablets and computers all claim to be the most cost-effective desktop telecommunication.

While the experts and their clients have conflicting opinions, they agree on one thing: the traditional phone desk won’t last long in this world.

“Dollar for dollar, would you invest your money in an iPad with a phone service and a cash register software, or in a desk phone and in a cash register?” asked Andy Abramson, chief executive officer of San Diego marketing firm Comunicano Inc. and author of the blog VoiPWatch.

For Abramson, it is evident that investing in a tablet or in a smartphone is more efficient because such devices not only unify communication, they can run an infinite number of applications in addition to telephony.

“Today, you are going to see people buying desk phones, but tomorrow you will see people buying tablets,” Abramson said.

The desk phone fell to the fifth position among corporate communication devices in 2012 previews, behind the smartphone, laptop, computer and tablet, and down from the third spot in 2011, a survey by Infonetics Research Inc. found.

However, the president of Colorado’s Fountainhead Networks Inc., Stephen Crockett, said in an e-mail that “desk phones won’t be going away any time soon.”

Desk phones fell to fifth position among corporate communication devices in 2012 previews, down from the third spot in 2011.

Tom Hartman, who owns a small technology business in Palatine, says his desk phone has better voice-clarity than his smartphone. “It’s apples and oranges,” Harman said adding, “I don’t want to use my smartphone in my office.”

A paralegal at Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Chicago said she owns an iPhone, but prefers to use her desk phone at work. “It’s more convenient, I don’t have to worry about losing it,” she said.

Ken Rubin, a customer support specialist at CME Group Inc., said answering the phone is all he does at work. “But we have a handset so we can still answer the desktop phone and walk around,” Rubin said.

To put it simply, noted Jeff Valentine, senior vice-president of product marketing at New-York based M5 Networks Inc., “the mobile phone revolution of the consumer market is not yet happening in the business market.”

“It’s an and, not an or,” Valentine said, referring to how smartphones or tablets can be supplemental to desk phones without replacing them.

Indeed, “although the telecom market is definitely leaning toward the wireless, there is still demand for phones on your desk,” claimed the president and founder of ChicagoBusinessVoIP, a Near North company that provides VoIP phones to small business with seven or fewer lines.

VoIP technology, which is increasingly replacing traditional lines, permits applications such as instant messaging or file sharing to be added on top of the voice service. VoIPs’ worldwide share of companies’ private lines more than doubled in the last six years to 60 percent and is expected to reach 84 percent by 2015, according to Infonetics Research Inc. and William Blair & Co. LLC.

For $49.99 a month, ChicagoBusinessVoIP offers unlimited domestic and international calls with the sort of features that VoIP desk phones make possible. “Find me- follow me”, for example, automatically forwards work calls to personal phones.

A CBV client, Chicago law firm Brotschul Potts LLC, has saved $700 to $800 a month since it replaced its old landline with CBV’s VoIP desk phones.

The advent of softphones–a visual replication of a phone on a computer or tablet–gives businesses another reason to invest in tablets, said Todd Carothers, a senior vice president of marketing and products at Chicago-based CounterPath Corp., a provider of desktop software.

“With a softphone such as Bria from CounterPath,” Carothers said, “the iPad enables voice, messaging, presence and video plus e-mail, browsing and other business applications.

“Also the iPad is easy to take with you so in essence your desk phone travels with you.”

Furthermore, “desk phones are costly,” Carothers claimed. “For about the same price IT managers can purchase a smartphone, tablet or iPod.”

When considering the next generation of “the extremely-mobile employee”, Crockett claimed that such person may even be “a subcontracted ‘gun for hire’ ” who will need an extension on more than one company’s phone. “You won’t see a desk phone in this person’s carry-on bag,” Crockett concluded.

Brandon Hampton of Indianapolis MOBI Wireless Management LLC couldn’t agree more. He advises Fortune 100 clients such as IBM Corp. and Ford Motor Co. to transition from corporate-owned devices to individually-owned ones. This, he explained, both reduces telephony and improves employee productivity because it provides them with a mobile connectivity.

“Today many workers own two mobiles,” Hampton said, “the most profitable thing to do for companies is to install their communication software to the employee’s mobile.”

Such a company software, Hampton said, includes e-mail service, sales numbers, calendars, agenda and other secure data, all precious information that employees need to be able to transport.

Although the large majority of corporate employees still use a desktop computer for communication, they will soon supplement it or replace it with smartphones and tablets, an Infonetics Research survey revealed.

One billion smartphones and 300 million tablets are expected to ship in 2013, compared with only 400 million and 55 million in 2011, the survey showed.

Valentine, while still defending VoIP desk phones, admitted that clients’ younger employees don’t always want them. When Valentine’s M5 Network asked its client Foursquare⎯ a smartphone applications maker ⎯ why it didn’t add more VoIP desk phones when hiring new employees, Foursquare answered simply that the new employees preferred to use their cell phones’ unlimited contract.

This piece was published by the Medill News Service