Questioning The Future Of Home Phones

Many folks, including Tom Keating, Garrett Smith and Dave Michels are looking for a next generation consumer electronics device. Over the past while I’ve seen some enthusiasm expressed for the Open Peak’s prototype gadget. I hesitate to call this device a phone although the Open Peak prototypes appear to be a cross between a cordless phone system, a tablet PC and an iPod Touch. I certainly agree that it’s really pretty.

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Open Peak has been around since 2005 when the won a CES Innovation Award. Perhaps some of the recent noise reflect the fact that CES 2009 is fast approaching. They made a splash again at CES 2008, however at the time the device was powered by an XScale processor. By September 2008 they were again making a splash, this time announcing their use of an Intel CPU.

As a little experiment I send a link to Open Peak’s web site to a coworker. This person is a long-time Apple fan and recent iPhone convert. He waited in line to buy four 3G iPhones for members of his family. He also has some experience running Asterisk in support of his home run business.

His comment was simple enough:

“It is interesting – but I think it is too late.  The larger touch screen display for the living room table or Kitchen might be nice – but I think everyone will end up using their smart phone for everything hand held.  A gateway to tie in these on wifi to a landline and for “internal” calls might be good but I don’t see people buying a “cordless” phone just to use at home. However nice.”

It’s well known that more and more people use the cellular phones as their primary phones. To date this trend has primarily impacted ILECs who are losing land-line business at a frightful rate. CableCo’s have taken a good chunk of that business, but wireless carriers are the truly successful businesses in the space.

Clearly for such a device to have a real impact it needs to go beyond being a phone in much the same way that Apple’s iPhone is more than just a cellular phone. It needs to integrate aspects of household life to have any value at all. There’s a ton of software development that needs to occur, and that’s going to take deep pockets.

What should this device do you ask? Here’s my take:

  • Cordless phone – ok that’s obvious, visual voicemail,
  • Home automation controller – run the lights, cameras, security, unlock doors, open the gate & garage, etc.
  • Message center – extend the VM feature into SMS and notes left by the kids
  • Web browser – access web services easily, like Google or Mapquest.
  • Home theatre – universal remote control, allow simple control of home theatre settings
  • Whole house audio – control local source, playlist, volume, mute, etc.
  • Internet Radio
  • Digital picture frame

It could be a very long list. As I write this what comes to mind is a redefinition of the concept of Unified Communications, but taken into a residential / family context.

In some ways it’s not so unlike the PCs that LG has been building into refridgerators the past number of years. That was a shallow effort as the application of a PC  in the kitchen is fairly obvious and straightforward. Integration into the rest of the home’s systems is more complicated, and that that’s the ultimate source of added value.

Ideally, the device would have a little,e asy to use, programming tool that would allow us to drag & drop widgets into screen layouts then setup the corresponding details to make the widget work. It’s a little like a Crestron control system, but more comprehensive, and hopefully end-user programmable.

That’s it…a Crestron controller for your life!

That’s a considerable undertaking, especially in the current economy.

  • Alternatively, one could extend the phone to provide control of other gadgets around the house – see http://blog.jamesforman.co.nz/2009/01/controlling-applications-with-asterisk/ for an example as to how this might be done. Add a bit of IVR (or speech rec for true 21st century appeal) to make it slightly less clunky, and it could provide a core for a neat set of tools.

    –Dave

    • David,

      Yes, this is my approach of the moment. I’m installing a Z-wave based home automation system then planning to integrate control from my Polycom phones. Since I presently don’t use a local instance of Asterisk I’m planning a web-based integration using the phones micro-browsers.

      I may add a local Asterisk server (Astlinux on an HP thin client) specifically to add an IVR aspect to the installation. But will be a consideration only after the initial installation is working.

      My Vera Z-wave master controller has web and cell phone based automation integration already, so I may not need so much DIY effort.

  • Excellent. I agree completely.

    At home I find myself watching more video on my PC now (2nd screen) than on the TV. I have IP550s throughout the home, but the cells are used more. 🙁

    Though at the office, I believe Openpeak is on to something. The phone you show above is the resi phone, the office one has a corded handset. The formfactor is very interesting to me, but ultimately it will depend on the applications that find a home on it – or not.

    FFWD 5 years, 4G or 5G wireless networks and some hosted PBX type features on a cell network paint a dark picture for the PBX.

    • Dave,

      Our home is evidently a little different, probably because my wife is a TV addict. She was a producer/director for over 20 years. When she’s awake and in the house there’s usually a TV on. The past two years that means a 42″ LCD. Since we got that TV the other two (32″ CRT and 27″ CRT) go essentially unused.

      As such, we watch TV on the TV…not on PCs. We haven’t yet routed a PC output up to the 42″ LCD. We didn’t have a PC with HDMI out until very recently. Even so, we’re very accustomed to using a PC while watching TV.

  • Hi,

    I would like to inquire where i can buy Open Peak Open Frame 2.0 VoIP phone and for how much?

    thank you,
    Rica

    • The short answer is, you can’t. OpenPeak aims to sell to carriers, who then offer the devices to end-users. In the US only Verizon Wireless if offering an OpenPean based device, their home HUB. Not sure about the rest of the world.

  • You wouldn’t believe it but I have spent all day searching for some articles about this. You’re a lifesaver, it was a great read and has helped me out to no end. Have a good one,X10 Home Automation