The ubiquitous office phones is due for the Web 2.0 treatment. I have an ancient (ok, about 10 years old) AT&T Partner 18D system at my office. The only reason I know the model number is because it’s essentially obsolete and finding add-on cards for multiple extensions and voicemail (4 meg PCMCIA cards!) is very difficult. The only problem in replacing it is that it works for what I need it for - high quality, reliable voice calls. The features for everything else are lacking and show clear signs that they were created and designed long before the Internet changed the way business is done. The guys at 37signals are asking what can be done to fix and enhance the “office phone” and my response is below:
Some UI design and features I’d like to see on “office” phones that are existing cell phone applications:
*Dynamic, In-Context Visual Icons for Hold, 3-Way, Call Transfers, and Forward to Voicemail - my old analog copy machine has in context menus this (it know to use the legal size tray when I put legal size paper on the glass), why can’t my phone?
*Send Button - this is a love it or hate it feature, but I enjoy being able to go back or edit a long stri
gn string of numbers when I make a mistake and basically press ‘enter’ on my cell before it dials.
*Skype and Outlook integration is a given. Skip the middleman (the phone itself) and use http://www.skylook.com
*Bluetooth Application to automatically forward my cell phone to my more reliable, more ergonomic landline handset as soon as I’m in range. This would also allow for seamless switching between VOIP and cell minutes. I also want the same for my home lines. They have some of this technology now, but it’s not wireless or seamless.
*Cellphone/PDA docking station built in to the phone itself. This is not only for recharging, but also to use the existing contact names in my cell phone as my contact list. If the office phone is connected to the network via CAT5, this can obviously be used for sync. The Bluetooth in the item above would cover the data portion of this, but not the physical recharging.
*Array mic speakerphone - this is getting better, but many speakerphone calls still sound like they did in the late 80’s - like shouting at each other through a tunnel.
*USB Hub integration - The phone can and should be another computer peripheral. I still want my phone to be a separate device, because I don’t want my computer crash to affect my phone call, but it can easily act as another USB hub, or multi-card reading device.
*Automatic Recording/Transcribing - Forget the wiretapping and privacy issues for a second and think how great it would be for your voice conversations to be voice-recognized text that can easily be attached to email threads and work projects. Imagine how this feature would affect professionals that bill by the hour. A clear record that could be used by accounting software (QuickBooks, Great Plains, etc.) and compliance programs (think stock brokers and Sarbanes-Oxley) would be a very useful feature.
*Real-Time Translation - this is a very specialized feature, but with “good enough” voice recognition, languages can be translated as scrolling text on the screen while you are on the call. This would also be very helpful for those awkward situations where you can’t understand the same language that is heavily accented as is the case where the English is not the native tongue for one of the speakers, but the conversation is held in English.
I’d like to know what other features you’d like to see in a office phone in my comments.
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