Remember a decade ago when the softphone was supposed to be one of the killer applications for VoIP? Why use the big clunky desk phone that takes up space on your desktop when you can use a softphone that’s fully integrated into the PC that you sit at every day? Makes perfect sense, right?
However, the market didn’t exactly play out that way. Despite the wide availability of the software and the ease of deployment, my research shows that less than 10% of workers who have the choice actually prefer the softphone. There are some situations that make sense, like for road warriors. They’re rarely in a place where a wired phone could be used on a regular basis. For the rest of us, though, despite the promise, the softphone has never caught on.
The answer to the question "why hasn’t the softphone become more popular" is based on usability. The vendors have done everything they can to make the softphone more usable, to the point where it actually looks like a picture of the phone so users know where to click and what functions are available.
Despite all of that, the usability is still awkward. It’s not that it’s hard, it’s just cumbersome. For example, with a regular desk phone, putting someone on mute requires hitting a button that says "mute." Putting someone on mute with a softphone requires moving the mouse over the mute button and clicking the mouse, but it could be as much as finding the app, bringing it up, going to the menu bar, finding the settings tab and then putting the microphone on mute. It’s this inconsistency that makes people not want to use it since the phone is the same all the time.
This week, Logitech released a keyboard called the "UC Solution for Cisco 725-C," which is USB keyboard that includes nine keys specifically for controlling softphones and video. These functions are:
In addition to the function keys, there’s an LCD display that shows incoming caller ID making it easier to see who is calling.
I certainly don’t believe we’ll see one of these on every desk in the near future, but there are some strong uses cases for this type of device. Call centers, hot desking/hoteling environments or anywhere you see shared workspaces such as nurses stations, banking, and trader turrets.
This specific device works with Cisco solutions today, which makes sense based on Cisco’s overwhelming share, but I would expect to see a Lync and Avaya solution down the road. The keyboard is bundled with a camera and mouse for a reasonable price of $269.
Is this a game changer? Not really, but it does make the game different. The "dead simple" ease of use, as Logitech describes it, is something we’ve all grown accustomed to in the world of traditional telephony, and now we can have that with desktop-based communications as well.
Touch screens may eventually obviate the need for something like this, but it will likely be a while before we see the touch screen widely deployed and the softphones designed with touch in mind. Until then, companies looking to be more aggressive with VoIP and softphones can definitely benefit from this innovatively designed keyboard.
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to the following constituents: End user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers.
Kerravala does research through a mix of end user and channel interviews, surveys of IT buyers, investor interviews as well as briefings from the IT vendor community. This gives Kerravala a 360 degree view of the technologies he covers from buyers of technology, investors, resellers and manufacturers.
Kerravala uses the traditional on line and email distribution channel for the research but heavily augments opinion and insight through social media including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Blogs. Kerravala is also heavily quoted in business press and the technology press and is a regular speaker at events such as Interop and Enterprise Connect.
Prior to ZK Research, Zeus Kerravala spent 10 years as an analyst at Yankee Group. He joined Yankee Group in March of 2001 as a Director and left Yankee Group as a Senior Vice President and Distinguished Research Fellow, the firms most senior research analyst. Before Yankee Group, Kerravala had a number of technical roles including a senior technical position at Greenwich Technology Partners (GTP) where he worked with Johna Til Johnson, the founder of Nemertes Research. Prior to GTP, Kerravala had numerous internal IT positions including VP of IT and Deputy CIO of Ferris, Baker Watts and Senior Project Manager at Alex. Brown and Sons, Incorporated.
Kerravala holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.