Jan 9, 2006

the sorry state of business phones

Unlike most of the jobs I've held my phone is significantly more important to me than email as the primary form of communication. And I do a lot of communicating for my job. I'm looking at my phone now and noticing how it looks identical to the phone I had when I first started working some 10 odd years ago. It's amazing this important piece of equipment hasn't evolved. At least it hasn't evolved for the end user. I can't think of a business tool that is in more need of an overhaul. And that usually means that there is significant opportunity for someone out there.

I've been told you can do a lot with a business phone - conference calling, holding, transfers, etc. I wouldn't know. I've never actually used these functions. I've looked at the instruction manual and I can actually follow the instructions. But a week later when I need to transfer someone to another person I inevitably forget the convoluted button sequence or byzantine pathway through the menu functions I'm supposed to invoke to get it done. Usually a scream to my admin works as a substitute. Hey, it works.

I have buttons on my phone that have little text descriptions to help me out. Things like Test, Drop, Ring, and SAC. Gee thanks.

This shouldn't be that hard right?

LCDs are cheap now. Can't we get a decent sized screen on phones now that has slightly better resolution than my 15 year old HP calculator? A low-end chip to run a phone app on can't be but a few dimes. Adding a little bit of software and some graphical, context based menu choices shouldn't be too hard. While they're at it maybe they could add some cute fluffy icons to pacify me during this moment of duress. Interject some soothing elevator music to give me strength during my time of need. I'm betting my admin would foot the bill for this new phone too.

This is why events like CES don't interest me. Those types of conferences generally aren't introducing products that solve anyone's problems. They are just 'cool' products that seem 'cool' and make you look 'cool' if you have them. I don't want cool. I want to transfer Jim over to Sally. Why is no one focusing on these obvious problems?


Anonymous said...

why is no one focusing on these obvious problems? i wish i could give you an easy answer - it would make me a rich man.

on the face of it, the simple answer might be that businesses fail to see the return on investment. after all, good design doesn't come cheap, and short-sighted businesses fail to see how it will ultimately benefit them. after all, build a better business phone, and they would come, right?

or would they? maybe businesses understand the value of design, but they choose to design towards a lowest-common-denominator consumer, one who they believe accepts the "technology is hard and i just have to deal with it" way of thinking. but does this consumer even exist? doesn't everyone, in principle, want things that are both easy to use and valuable? it would seem so, and yet no revolution has occurred, no uprising aimed at making a world full of better-designed things.

businesses deliver what people will buy. people buy what they perceive as either necessary, desirable or valuable, but they often take what they can get, at the best price. this is especially true when they can't make an informed buying decision, or don't realize that things could be different. and so in many cases, businesses deliver sub-standard products because people buy them thinking there's nothing better (or even worse, thinking that crappy products are good enough).

it almost seems like a Gordian knot. i wish i had the sword.

Jinkman said...

I'm looking forward to more SIP-based VoIP functionality to make these scenarios easier, and introduce some new ones as well. It's still embarrassingly difficult to do 3-way calling. And I'm holding out hope that everything doesn't get routed through the PC - I'm sure that won't make things simpler for a while. Instead, it'll be more cool technology...