Polycom: Don’t Say Goodbye to Your Desk Phone

There has been much opinionating (yeah, I know that’s not really a word) in the Cloud PBX industry about the day when mobile applications running on smartphones will replace the standard PBX desk phone. In this vision of the future, the desk phone will be obsolete.  Employees will bring their personal devices to work (commonly called BYOD) and business communications will be conducted over an app running on said devices.  These apps will register to the company PBX (or UCC server) and all business communications (voice, video and chat) will be conducted over a private, secure channel.

Yes, I think that the day will come when mobile devices will reign supreme in business communications… eventually.  But I also agree with this white paper from Polycom positing that desk phones are not going away in the foreseeable feature.

Among the reasons that Polycom sets forth are:

  • Wireless isn’t made for two-way conferencing  – Most BYOD’s can only connect via a wireless network. Unfortunately, beyond narrowband phone calls, wireless networks are not built for the mass deployment of two-way media like video and audio calling. They’re optimized for transferring data files and downloading movies. Live media is more demanding of data integrity and latency control, which often results in unpredictable dropouts and freezes over wireless connections.
  • A smartphone has to be small and cheap – A deskphone is assigned a reasonable amount of space, but the handheld’s priority is size. Every component is shrunk to the minimum in an industry largely defined by “my smartphone is thinner than yours.” Speakers are weak, sound pickup undirected, cameras are shaky, and batteries run down before the work is done.
  • Soft clients crash – Soft clients share cores, memory, I/O, and screen space with everything else that is running, so performance and reliability become uncertain. One laptop reboot in the middle of a conference can kill the meeting. A real phone instead puts communicating “on top;” It doesn’t get lost, it doesn’t crash, and it always works.
  • A BYOD is uncomfortable – There is a big difference between the short calls that are made on a smartphone and the hour-long discussions in a business. Users get fatigued; It’s hard to consistently perform at your best when you aren’t sure whether they can hear you or if the call is still running.
  • Where is the camera pointed?  – Even a brief glimpse of sales figures on a whiteboard, a
    personal wall decoration, or an unannounced guest can be catastrophic to a business situation. A good Business Media Phone avoids this with an assigned place on the desktop for a stable field of view, and often adds a mechanical camera shutter to bring absolute confidence. The BYOD has neither.
  • A BYOD is built to minimize power use – This ekes out battery life, but also means it sleeps frequently,dims the display, and operates all functions at the minimum usable level.
  • On a soft client, the controls keep moving – A real phone provides a dedicated display and dedicated controls so that, for example, there’s no embarrassed scrambling to find the “Mute” button when someone walks in. With a real phone, phone functions don’t get buried under spreadsheets, messages, and all the other screentop activity that sprouts up during a busy meeting.
  • BYOD is fragile – Let’s face it, they look cool, but the typical smartphone encloses all those smart entrails within a thin glass screen and a slippery shell. It’s not just the glass; any number of internal functions can fracture if dropped even once, because there is not much space for protection inside that slender package.

Most of these shortcomings will be solved when device makers can improve battery performance.  Although the situation has improved markedly since I first blogged on this topic six years ago, I believe that the limited battery life mobile of devices still prevents users from using them for full desk phone replacement duty.  Once the battery life problem is solved, it will be possible to solve the ergonomic issues with bluetooth (or other) attached devices and accessories.  In the meantime, however, don’t sell your Polycom stock.