If you are a gadget guy (like me), this is the best time of year. This week’s CES provides a glimpse into all the cool gadgets on the horizon, as well as all of the possibilities which may or may not make it to market. An intriguing discussion taking place at CES this year is the possibility of bringing an iPhone experience to landline phones. Landline phones have definitely lost their “cool” factor in the past few years. After all, a name like “plain” old telephone service (POTS) doesn’t create a lot of inspiration and excitement. The reality of course is that few services in the history of mankind have had the impact that POTS has. So despite its plain nature, it’s still a mainstay in society and will continue to be for a long time. But how do you breathe life into it when the likes of iPhones and Blackberry’s steal all of the excitement. Perhaps the adage, “when in Rome, do like the Romans” applies.
Enter the OpenFrame initiative. OpenFrame is a landline phone concept on display at CES that aims to inject an iPhone like experience into home telephones. It’s designed to work with broadband, and provides a variety of features including synchronization with contact lists and calendars, viewing TV listings, sending IM or SMS, checking the weather, surfing the Web, etc. It can even act as an alarm clock. The idea of course is to add function and variety to that “plain” old device sitting in the vast majority of homes in the developed world. Another goal is to extend the iPhone experience into the home, allowing the real iPhone’s batteries to recharge, literally. Makers of the OpenFrame suggest that wireless’ main handicap is battery life, so when wireless needs a recharge, customers shouldn’t have to give up the experience.
Several carriers, including Verizon are looking at the OpenFrame concept. Verizon is experimenting with an OpenFrame platform called the Verizon Hub. Most landline carriers, especially those that don’t have wireless assets, need to investigate adding value to the landline experience. Broadband obviously fuels a lot of incremental value, but an argument can be made that pure and fast connectivity may not be enough. Finding ways to leverage that connectivity into more valuable (and revenue generating) experiences is on the minds of most landline carriers. Landline carriers have to find ways to compete and differentiate with their core service. It’s not just about fighting off wireless substitution. After all, I doubt that an OpenFrame device would be enough to halt the defection of people who have decided that wireless is enough for them – no need for a landline. But would they add an OpenFrame device if it came with their home broadband service? Maybe. It’s also about creating an experience with my home phone service product that my competitors don’t. All things being equal, would OpenFrame tilt me towards staying with my existing landline carrier when a competitor comes calling? Maybe.
Will it work? Who knows? We’ve seen other failed attempts at creating web interfaces for home phones. Home phones lack the key ingredient which makes iPhones most appealing – mobility. OpenFrame’s development company, OpenPeak says it’s more about design than necessarily function. Cost will certainly be a huge factor as well. I try to steer away from the prediction business, but in the interim, my gadget alter ego would sure like to get his hands on a functioning OpenFrame.
Read more about OpenFrame at PC MAG.com.