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Apple iPad - Your Next Desktop Phone?

September 23, 2011 | Hogan Keyser
September 22, 2011 by Tom Keating (TMCnet) - I've been thinking about how the Apple iPad could really disrupt the VoIP space and become your next desktop phone. Think about the impact to companies such as Cisco, Polycom, Aastra, snom, Grandstream, and others. While these companies do offer low-end IP desktop phones, they have higher margins on the high-end large color screen IP phones that sport advanced features like RSS feeds (weather, news), collaboration, and video conferencing.

Take for instance the Aastra BluStar media phone, which sports a 13" touch screen that achieves true HD 720p video conferencing at a rate of 30 fps or the Polycom VVX 1500, which sports a a 7" color touch-screen and 2MP camera. Both IP phones are over $650, while the latest iPad 2 can be had for $450 (16GB model). The iPad can do everything these two IP phones can and more. The iPad 2 can run hundreds of apps from the App Store, surf the Web, take pictures, capture video, join a Webex or GoToMeeting session, have a Skype voice or video call, connect to a PC/laptop using a RDP (Remote Desktop) client, and much more. Why pay >$600 for a high-end IP phone when you can have a much more versatile iPad for the same price?

As the CTO of TMC I am responsible for choosing the best available technology at the best price and is the most future-proof. Currently, I sign-off on traditional IP phones, mobile phones (some employees like sales personnel), laptops for many employees, and tablets (iPads) for some personnel. Why wouldn't I simply buy an iPad which can be used to replace the desktop phone? Also, an iPad tablet can replace a laptop in most instances, which is pretty obvious. But I could go a step further and have the iPad replace the mobile phone as well. Assuming the iPad has a 3G data plan (not just WiFi), a SIP softphone, and a Bluetooth headset, an iPad user can make or receive calls to their iPad from anywhere there is 3G or WiFi coverage. I just killed three birds (laptop, mobile phone & desktop phone) with one stone (iPad).

But let's focus on the iPad replacing the desktop IP phone. One issue with using an iPad as your desktop phone is there is no traditional handset you can connect to an iPad. Sure, you can pair your Bluetooth headset with an iPad, but to be perfectly honest, I hate wearing an in-ear Bluetooth headset and I'm not that crazy about over-the-head Bluetooth headsets either. If I worked in a call center, I would definitely want a headset since I'd be taking call after call and holding a handset an entire workday would be tiresome.

However, most employees on average make or receive 3-12 calls per day. As such, these low-usage employees just want to pick up a handset to answer or make a call and hang it up when they're done. So what we need here is a wireless Bluetooth handset device that hangs up when you put it down on your desk and answers the call when you pick it up. This Bluetooth handset device could leverage a proximity sensor (popularized by the iPhone) that detects when it is flat on the table or in the air.

Now all the iPhone needs is a decent SIP softphone client to connect to the corporate PBX (or hosted SIP trunk), of which there are plenty, including CounterPath's Bria. Erik Lagerway's Hookflash for iPad is like a P2P VoIP client on steroids featuring group video conferencing, group messaging, and more. I'm not sure if Hookflash supports SIP registration to other SIP registrars, but if it does, you could hook up Hookflash to your SIP-based IP-PBX.

Combine Hookflash with this hypothetical Bluetooth handset device and you have yet another desktop phone killer and an expensive video telepresence system killer as well. I actually mentioned my hypothetical Bluetooth handset to Andy Abramson in the Austin ITEXPO press room and he informed me that Hookflash is actually coming out with such a device!

Looks like all the pieces are coming together for the Apple iPad to take the desktop IP phone market by storm! This isn't just limited to Apple iPad tablets by the way. Android tablet-like phone devices are coming out very soon. Panasonic launched a line of SIP desktop phones earlier this year and sources tells me they have an Android desktop phone coming out soon. Though it will be a true desktop phone (stays on your desk plugged in) since there is no rechargeable battery to make it portable. Still, it's a step in the direction of an all-in-one device that is your portable computer, your mobile phone, and your desktop phone.

Just remember, when Apple disrupts the VoIP desktop IP phone space, you heard it here first! Time to go buy some Apple stock. 

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