Reclaiming the Title “Smartphone”

Reclaiming the Title “Smartphone”

By Dave Michels November 12, 2013 7 Comments
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Reclaiming the Title “Smartphone” by Dave Michels

The smartphone is the one in your pocket, not the one on the desk. Desktop phones should be the smart ones because they are free of the mobile constraints. Wired phones have access to ample power, don’t need to rely on antennas, can have much larger displays and speakers, and they have room for hard keys. Yet, it’s the portable bundle of compromise that carries the moniker of smart.

For several years of hard phone v softphone debates, I’ve maintained that the correct answer is a reinvented hardphone. Cisco provides the model with its DX650 video endpoint. I wrote about it when it was launched, and it’s grown on me because it represents a new expectation for desktop UC.

When the first Android-based desktop phones came out I considered them a solution without a problem. In a post on the TC Android phone I wrote, “The company is going to need some compelling business apps.” The problem was desktop computers and mobile phones offered a better experience for general Android apps. That was three years ago.

The DX650 is an Android-based, video, smart, desk phone with its own apps as well as compatibility with the Google Play Store. It brings the traditional IP phone to the current era.

When it launched many observers complained that it was the Cius with a cord. There is some truth to that, but so what? The Cius was a decent product, it just wasn’t as attractive as general purpose alternative tablets such as the iPad. The DX650 doesn’t compete with the iPad, it’s competing against traditional desktop phones (as well as softphones and smartphones).

I like desk phones. They are always-on and fit-for-purpose with quality audio. The problem is that most are just good for voice communications, and my needs are broader. In UC parlance, multi-modal communications are standard issue, thus the endpoint needs to be savvy with more than voice. The modern UC physical endpoint needs integrated presence, contacts, calendar, and video as a starting point.

Additionally, the DX650 is the first phone I’ve seen that is truly bluetooth savvy. Cisco calls this Intelligent Proximity, and it allows the sharing of contacts and call histories with smartphones. It is an enterprise UC desk phone that accepts and embraces the mobile phone. It means the DX650 itself can be a handset, speaker, or headset for the mobile. This is common with new cars, but rare in UC endpoints.

The phone has APIs allowing third parties to leverage the DX650. Consider this scenario enabled by Plantronics:

  1. Single reach incoming call routes to mobile device.

  2. Call answered on bluetooth Plantronics Legend headset. It’s an important ad-hoc video call, so it’s appropriate to return to the desk.

  3. Upon arrival, the DX650 detects the headset and signals the DX650 to prompt to move the call to the desk. Accept with a single touch.

  4. The active call moves to the DX650, drops from the mobile device, AND gets promoted to video.

Another integration from Plantronics is the screen auto lock/unlock feature based on headset proximity. Security needs to be more passive than rely on users to manually lock and unlock their devices.

Since the DX650 is Android-based, it can run native apps. Several of the Cisco apps such as WebEx are enhanced specifically for the device. I sometimes get frustrated with web conferences because I need screen real estate for note taking (and email). It would be nice to have the option of using a separate UC endpoint for the conference. For non-WebEx conferences, Plantronics modified its InstantMeeting conference calling application to work on the DX650.

The DX650 sports a HD camera and 9” display. The screen can be utilized as a second screen for desktop video sessions. If that screen is too small, then use the HDMI output for an external 1920 x 1200 monitor configured as a larger mirrored display or for completely separate content.

With the right apps, The DX650 could be an complete call center agent desktop. The on-screen apps don’t have to be Android-based because it includes a client for virtual desktop interface (VDI). There are also Android apps that support RDP. Since the device has a built in VPN client, the agent could just as easily be in a remote location.

I contend desk phones are here to stay, but not the simple voice endpoints so common today. Smartphones are versatile, but their size and other features optimized for mobility limit utility for the deskbound. There is still a significant group that primarily work at a desk (albeit at home), so don’t rule-out a wired smartphone.

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7 Responses to "Reclaiming the Title “Smartphone”" - Add Yours

Greg Zweig 11/12/2013 8:40:39 AM

Why not just use a tablet and a stand? You get the features, ease of use and multimedia services without the ridiculous Cisco premium. I can use my $499 tablet at my desk, at home or on the road. Use a 10 inch or 8 inch model and get the same features. I can see some folks enjoying a dedicated phone for some activities so buy a cost effective model and use the tablet or PC as an interface. It makes no sense to me to spend big $$ on a fancy UI when 3/4 of the workforce has the same or better screen sitting within 20 inches of the phones. And, this expensive phone is not mobile so its value is $0 when I'm not at my desk.

Dave I just don't see the sense in investing in an expensive complicated desktop phone when the alternatives are less expensive and offer greater utility -- without sacrificing anything.
Roberta J. Fox 11/12/2013 8:50:39 AM

Dave: Good overview on the Cisco DX650 product. Most of our client RFPs for replacement telephony and collaboration involve analysis for future business and technology requirements. In thinking through things, they are estimating that 50-60% of users would require a hard phone.

The remainder of the folks work remote, from multiple offices, their vehicles, etc., and have identified that they would prefer a soft phone client able that is able to work on various hard devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs, and also whether personal or corporate.

This takes BYOD to a new level, perhaps creating a new acronym...CFYOD...i.e. calling from your own device?

Net to say, the various choices of devices, combined with the changing work models is making it more complex for IT departments to design, deploy and support unified communications solutions. Alternatively, it is becoming much more convenience for us corporate folks to be able to keep in touch, from where ever we are, disregarding type of device we choose to use at a particular point in time.
Art Rosenberg 11/12/2013 3:23:04 PM


Inasmuch as mobile devices will be primarily for access to people and online apps, they should not be treated as desktop PC computers that store apps and data. That is, they won't be "smart," but will be "dumb" endpoints that are personalized and "sandboxed" with soft clients for all types of inbound and outbound contacts and interactions with both people and apps that are somewhere else.

That's how interactive computing first started, with "time-sharing" from "dumb" teletypes, until IBM brought in the desktop PC that nobody had to share. Now that telephony is being subsumed by UC, we just need to make endpoints multi-modal, and keep the "smarts" in the "clouds."
Dave Michels 11/15/2013 12:29:52 AM

I don't think it is as much about the functionality is as the role. With BYOD, sure you can use your own tablet for many of these functions - and if you want to make a call you might need your own headset. On the other hand, perhaps the enterprise wants to provide some desktop phones. The DX650 is better than a voice only phone - and if you don't happen to have your own tablet, or choose not to use your own tablet - then the wired phone provides the functionality. You don't need wifi, you don't need a headset. Factor in hotdesking and multiple people can use this same device (shifts).

Tablets have a 2 year lifespan. Charger connectors vary. Wifi strength varies. This is a complete solution without a lot of variables for not that much more than a traditional phone - and actually less than a phone and PC which could be viable in some situations. .
Michael Finneran 11/15/2013 6:43:01 AM

Hi Dave,

For the most part I agree with you that the desk phone is here to stay, and the user experience can be enhanced significantly as Cisco and Plantronics have demonstrated. However, I see two major challenges in getting enterprise desk phone functionality to the same level as what we have in consumer smartphones:
1. The job is a lot more difficult: You point that out in your description of the various ways the DX650 could be configured. Sure we could do all of that, but what user is going to be able to figure it out? For a baseline user to get the full functionality, the device would need a killer user interface, which gets us to the next point.
2. All the top design talent is flocking to the consumer markets: You kind of allude to that in talking about Bluetooth capabilities on the DX650 when you say, "This is common with new cars, but rare in UC endpoints." It's nice that the UC&C vendors have learned the term "user experience" however, we need to insert the prefix "lame", "bad", or "deplorable" to describe many of their products. Comfort and sound quality keep me loyal to my desk phone, but its the fluid experience of my real smartphone that speaks to me.
Art Rosenberg 11/15/2013 9:53:50 AM

Amen, Michael!

What is changing the most about desktop business communications is the increasing role of messaging, especially IM, as a starting point for real-time voice/video conferencing. Further, when it comes to video, "on-camera" viewing of the person you are talking with is not always as important as exchanging any form of visual information (documents, messages, video clips, etc.).

So, while multi-modal "hot-desking" will certainly become more useful for both mobile and teleworking personnel who need larger screens and keyboards, the ability for individual end users to "bring their own contexts" (BYOC) to any available desktop, will fit in nicely with what they can do with their multi-modal smartphones and tablets.

Such consistency will demand "cloud" service solutions and device independence, not premise-based systems, but that migration is already well underway for both person-to-person communications and CEBP-enabled business process apps.
Lin Song 11/20/2013 8:21:09 AM

Yes, cloud services are the way to go and desk phones will stay with its easy to use and manage.

One point I want to make is that cloud services cannot be truly device independent as it uses the device' display, camera, microphone, connectivity to the network and DSP to process media. Video calling, for example, largely depend on device's hardware capability and OS level APIs. Today's normal desk phones don't fit the bill, so "smarter" desk phone are needed.

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