At Long Last: The Convergence of Phones and PCs

I remember a few years ago when we were selecting new telephones for my office. A few of us got to test out some of the possilibities and we later talked about the pros and cons of each.

I made the point over and over again (as I know I am prone to do, but at least I’m consistent) that I couldn’t believe there wasn’t more convergence between the PC and the good old phone. Specifically, I was amazed then, and I am still amazed now, at the lack of communication between PCs and phones, particularly in the corporate environment. If you’d told me back in the eighties that in 2006 there would not be an easy and widely used way to click on a name in your Outlook contacts and have your phone dial that person’s number, I would have laughed in your face. Yet, if anything it’s gotten worse over the years. One click dialing actually worked back in the dial up with your slow modem days. If I were creating the tech universe, once click address book dialing would have been the next thing I did after word processing and email.

But is hasn’t happened. And the inroads that have been made are much better suited for you home telephone than your office one. There’s still not easy way to get your office PC to talk to your office phone.

Sure, I have a Skype account at home and I know we could use some fancy VOIP phones at work that integrate, at least somewhat, with your PC. In fact, I tested a Cisco VOIP phone for almost a year. It was fine for me, as someone who is very tech savvy. But it would have been a disaster to roll them out to thousands of people who aren’t. Not to mention very expensive.

So we continue to plug along tethered to our regular old phones, which sit beside but never speak to our PCs.

But things are finally starting to change.

Jajah, for example, allows you to make phone to phone calls from their website. Just add your number to the first blank, the number you want to call to the second one and click “Call.” Your phone will ring, the other person’s phone will ring and, presto, you’re talking. It is easy and it works. Even better, there is an Outlook plugin that promises one click dialing from within Outlook- including both contacts and phone numbers that appear in the email you’re reading. The plugin would not install correctly in my exchange-driven office computer, but it is still in beta, so whatever problem I experienced may be fixed before the plugin is finalized. I will contact Jajah and see if I can get a fix on the issue.

Another startup, Hullo, provides similar services. Plus it lets you talk either via your regular phone or over the internet via VOIP. Plus, you can also add others to the call, creating easy conference calls. You can even switch between your regular phone and VOIP during a call.

Pinger, which I just read about today, takes things one step further. It allows you to store a special number in your mobile phone’s speed dial. You press the button for that number and, via voice prompts, you can access a person’s information from your phone’s address book and send that person an audio message, either to his email account or via SMS. Handy for when you need to leave a quick message, but don’t have time to talk. It’s in invitation-only beta right now but it looks very promising.

The big winner will be the company that combines most or all of these features in a cross-platform application that can be used in with corporate phone systems.

We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m excited about the possibility that my PC and my phone might soon be on speaking terms.