CounterPath’s Bria For iPad: Obsoletes Desk Phones & Conference Phones?

Bria-iPad-Edition-beauty-200In the course of announcing it’s new Bria iPad Edition CounterPath recently made some very bold claims. They claim that within their own company Bria iPad Edition has essentially replaced desktop phones. They further claim it has overtaken their use of dedicated conference phones in meeting rooms. Citing their own internal experience they have brashly declared that the death of the desk phone is upon us.

One would expect a leading maker of soft phones to be less than enthusiastic about the future of hard phones. There is a very clear uptick in the use of soft phones, inspired by Skype at first, but then accelerated by UC clients from companies like Avaya, Mitel and even Microsoft.

Be that as it may, there remain tens of millions of IP phones on desktops around the globe. Clearly, the death of the category has not been universally observed. I hear no weeping from the various Polycom devices that litter my working life.

However, it has been said that the future is already here, just not yet evenly distributed. Perhaps I simply hold a position later on the curve of this trend?

I for one like hardware. I appreciate its determinism. My desk phone has never blue-screened. Never shown me a “sad mac” icon. It doesn’t react poorly to the various goings on within my desktop PC. It seldom requires a reboot. It doesn’t ever require power near my desk as it’s powered via a POE switch on a UPS in the wiring closet.

It’s a device designed for a specific task. That makes it efficient. It’s performance is utterly consistent, which I find to be an admirable trait.

Turning my gaze to conference phones, I find that I must question CounterPath’s claims about the Bria+iPad combination. Can it truly replace a well-considered conference phone? Can it fill that role just as well as a Polycom Soundstation IP5000? Or an IP7000? I what context? Small room? Larger room? Four people? How about twelve? Or thirty?

Bria-vs-Soundstation

Andy Abramson from Communicano, CounterPath’s PR firm, tells a little story about recently using Bria iPad Edition in a Regus conference room, something that is truly unusual given the design intent of the conference room.

“We used my iPad last week in a conference room setting when someone at the Regus office in SF broke the Polycom starfish speakerphone. The iPad worked as well via Skype and HiDef Conferencing. …according to my team which was remote, while a few of us were in the room, and it was a large room, it worked as well or better than the Polycom.”

I’ve made some inquiries about the nature of the Regus installation to try and better put this claim in context. While I don’t doubt their expression of their specific experiences. I remain doubtful that I would find the combination satisfactory in such applications.

I also wonder if the synergy they describe about the Bria+iPad pairing was unique to that combination of hardware and software? Does Bria on an iPhone perform as well in the same circumstances? In conversation Todd Carothers, SVP Product Management and Business Development of CounterPath, notes that Bria on Android does not, owing in part  to the lack of hardware-based echo cancellation in those devices.

So to the folks at CounterPath I was inclined say simply, “prove it!” Then it occurred to me that we might just be on the cusp of a little project that could be a nice practical test of CounterPath’s claim.

ecomm-logoThe annual eComm conference is to happen in San Francisco June 27-29th? Communicano is in fact providing PR support for the conference. Andy Abramson, no stranger to the VUC, had suggested that he might be able to arrange a series of breakfast talks or interviews with notable conference speakers or attendees. We could run these live each day of the conference as VUC special sessions.

These special sessions would be very much like the call that Tim Panton coordinated from Astricon 2010. On that occasion Tim used Skype on his older MacBook along with a ClearOne Chat160 USB conference phone. He brought several of Digium’s lead developers to the table to talk about the developments announced at Astricon, most especially the Asterisk Scalable Communication Framework.

clearone-chat-160-usb-500

That call was the motivation for my purchase of the Chat 160. I had been disappointed to be ill-equipped to handle the VUC call from Astricon 2009.  I thought that the Chat 160 performed admirably under the circumstances. You can still listen to the podcast and decide for yourself.

With these experiences behind us I thought that perhaps Todd might want to use eComm as a chance to prove his claim about how well the Bria+iPad combination performs. I suggested this to him, Andy & Tim Panton, all of whom would be at eComm. It seems that they are agreed that this is how the special sessions should proceed.

Andy was already planning on doing the interviews/discussions. This merely means that he’ll use his iPad2 running Bria as the means of sending the interviews to the ZipDX bridge. Andy may also use a Jawbone Jambox, which is a Bluetooth connected speakerphone device. He demonstrated the Jambox in the pre-roll of last weeks VUC call.

Jawbone_Jambox_3_4_black_grayback_RGB_LR

Todd also has an iPad2, and further is planning on bringing his own bandwidth in the form of a Verizon Mifi capable of connection over 4G LTE. That’s potentially good solution to overcoming potentially problematic conference Wifi.

Tim will have an original iPad. If they would appreciate a backup plan I will send them the ClearOne Chat 160 as well.

If all goes according to our rather informal plans the forthcoming  VUC special sessions from eComm 2011 will be conducted by a small herd of iPad-toting, Bria-wielding CounterPathians. Kudos to all involved for making the effort. I’m sure that the conversations will be on interesting topics and with very interesting people. As I can’t be at the conference myself I look forward to hearing the results of their efforts.

  • Warmbowski

    As I mentioned about 9 months ago on the VUC, all it needs is a quality handset/speakerphone dock to sit in at your desk (for about $100-$150), and Polycom is in a world of hurt in the handset market. Businesses can provide a dock to any employee that brings in an iPad (or iPhone), and provision Bria and other settings on their iPad via Apple’s iPhone Configuration Utility. The businesses won’t have to buy more $300 executive desk phones, employees gets to have a wifi (maybe the weakest link in this idea) SIP phone with features that would best a Polycom VVX 1500 (and plays music).

    Dang. Now I’m excited. Anyone know a good MFi certified Developer I can get in touch with? 🙂

    • The iPad itself is a pretty costly. That makes the iPad+dock more expensive than a typical executive desk phone. I can’t imagine a genuinely usable dock being under $150. Perhaps Polycom might adapt one of their USB attached CX series devices to the task? They target MS-OCS, but the difference is slight.

      Reliance upon VoWifi is definitely a weakness. Any workplace wanting to go this route would need to design their WLAN around the application. Must be 802.11n and implement 802.11e (WMM) and know that the iPad radio supports WMM. Lots of consumer devices don’t.

      I don’t know that there would be any cost savings realized if you had to built out your WLAN to accommodate the voip traffic.

      • Warmbowski

        Granted, I am with you on the VoWifi that may make some problems, especially on a Wifi system with lots of connections. So lets see if they ever come out with a way to network it through the 30 pin dock port.

        But as far as the iPads in the business place, there are many more reasons for brining them in, not just as a VoIP platform. So they might already be in a business, and they just need a dock. Also, businesses have a choice to purchase them if it makes sense, or (which is probably more likely the case these days), allow employees that already own them to connect to the business network and systems. They are easily configured via profiles generated by the business that configures them and and installs apps. The employee just has to agree to the terms of allowing the configurations/installations (they can undo the profile install at any time). So I wouldn’t actually count the price of the iPad in the cost, unless a business really wants to buy them. And if they do, it’s probably for another reason like some mobile business system.