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Desk phone inching off desk, toward trash

Desk phones will probably disappear, but not before IT staffs are more comfortable with the replacement technology.

CHICAGO -- Desk phones and the backlight.

Those are the two innovations -- one rather modern, the other comparatively ancient -- that experts predict will soon be relinquishing their roles in the name of mobility and longer battery life.

Hogging up desk space, confusing dialers and generally always twisting up its cord, the desk phone is on its way to "remember when" status, Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney said during his keynote address at last week's Gartner Wireless & Mobile Summit.

The reason for the phone's impending demise is simple: More businesses are installing companywide Wi-Fi and more cell phones are being built to roam between standard and Wi-FI connections and tie to an IP PBX.

Dulaney talked as if the revolution were under way, saying "many of you are having difficulty with this transition, because, you know, we've lived with these things for 50 years."

Dual-mode phones are good and the concept of Voice over Internet Protocol is a reality.

But IT departments aren't tearing out the phone lines just yet.

"If we were to do something like that, it would be really painful," said Steve Moriarty, an IT employee at Agilent Technologies Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif.

Agilent, which designs bioanalytical and technical measurement devices, could potentially benefit from a desk phone-free workplace for its 25,000 employees worldwide, but Moriarty said the technology available simply isn't a safe-enough bet right now. The company would need "something we could really trust."

"I don't think we're at that point," he said.

Dulaney also fawned over a new Samsung phone with an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen.

"Here's a little two-and-a-half-inch screen that you should be able to see playing a movie here," Dulaney said, holding the phone -- the thickness of two quarters laid on top of each other -- aloft in a darkened conference room.

Even from the first few rows, attendees couldn't really see what was playing. But it sure was bright. And it sure did look smart.

Dulaney called OLED on phones "really a breakthrough" requiring less battery power and allowing for slimmer phones. Already making hefty inroads on phones and just now being used in TV-screen technology, OLED could become standardized.

Also of note in the address was a pitch for CIOs and IT leaders to implement what Gartner is calling "managed diversity" principles as a means for dealing with the increasing number of employee-owned consumer smartphones being brought into the workplace.

The concept says IT should make certain concessions to employees using personal devices and smartphones in exchange for the employee allowing IT to control some aspects of the deal. IT staff could allow a wide range of applications, so long as employees restrict themselves to choosing from a handful of approved devices, for example. Or the IT department could allow a wide range of phones and devices but restrict which business applications could be used on them.

A third option is what Dulaney called a "concierge" service, which, to paraphrase, is allowing executives and other "hard-to-say-no-to" employees to use whatever device they like, but to pay for any extra work or problems concerning that out of a "concierge" line item in the IT budget.

Put even more simply by Dulaney: "I'll do anything for money."

Line item or not, though, short on cash is short on cash, and some found the concierge part of the "managed diversity" concept unrealistic.

Many of you are having difficulty with this transition, because, you know, we've lived with these things for 50 years.

Ken Dulaney, analyst, Gartner Inc.

"It doesn't fit within our budgetary constraints with the company," said Jerry Simons, a mobile computing project manager at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in San Francisco. Simons said his department has always worked on the premise that IT will have the decision-making power on device use at the public utility and has "guarded" that power carefully.

Dulaney's presentation, which was the latest in a line of annual assessments of the mobile device market, included other predictions and suggestions, touching on subjects including:

IPhones. Dulaney said he doesn't believe the iPhone should be used for business. Apple unveiled Thursday a software development kit for the phone and may make it more enterprise-friendly. But the phone doesn't include a remote wipe feature if lost or stolen, won't force complex passwords, does not support complete over-the-air synchronization and requires using iTunes to synchronize everything. Dulaney said he addressed these issues in a letter to Apple, saying Gartner would not recommend the iPhone until they are dealt with. He did not mention a reply.

BlackBerrys. This device is still a safe bet and the market leader for the foreseeable future. Microsoft Windows Mobile is gaining ground, but only in a sense. The smartphone and mobile email markets are expanding fast enough that more Windows Mobile phones doesn't necessarily mean fewer BlackBerrys. BlackBerry remains the leader in bandwidth efficiency, a seemingly unimportant matter unless you're one of the people who believe carriers will soon begin charging per megabyte. Dulaney is one of those people.

The Android platform (Gphone). Refer to it by the software platform or the actual (potential) device, but it's coming. The mostly open source code means there could be little consistency among devices, so Dulaney's conclusion is Android will be a "consumer play" that CIOs and IT departments should stay away from.

Palm. It really needs to slim its phones down to stay competitive.

Global Positioning System (GPS). GPS devices might actually have a great ROI. Dulaney said he plans to research how much time people spend getting lost versus how much they are being paid while finding themselves. He said he suspects it is financially justifiable to include GPS in all employee phone purchases.

IBM Lotus Notes Traveler. Another item that he warns should be avoided at all costs. It doesn't have key security features, Dulaney said. "How they could put a product on the market to compete with Microsoft [Outlook Mobile] and miss that is just mind boggling," he said. "I think they will fix that within the next six months."

Synchronization cabling. This will soon be standardized, even though wireless USB technology still has a little ways to go. Still, don't buy anything with a strange connector, Dulaney said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Zach Church, News Writer.

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