Siemens Enterprise Communications on Dec. 11 will introduce a new line of IP phones for its IP PBXes that bring out a number of advances in user interface design.
Siemens with the new OpenStage IP phones, which initially support the Session Initiation Protocol, claimed a number of firsts including the first desktop phone that can share information with a mobile phone using Bluetooth; first time a desktop phone can connect to both wired and wireless networks; and the first IP phone line that supports at least five different standards concurrently.
"This is the first serious initiative to update the user interface on the phone since we moved from rotary to the push button [interface] weve had for last 30 years," said Martin Northend, director of portfolio marketing for small and medium enterprises in Munich, Germany.
The new OpenStage phones employ an iPod-like design to provide access to much more information on the desktop phone. That includes a touch-sensitive wheel, dubbed the TouchGuide, that provides easy access to a menu-based interface. It also includes the TouchSlider, which controls the handset, ringer and speaker phone volume. Other touch-sensitive pre-set and programmable keys speed access to popular applications such as address book, voice mail and speed dial.
The four new models in the OpenStage family will work initially with Siemens HiPath 8000 server-based IP PBX, which is based on SIP. That support is key for the roughly 2-year-old HiPath, but it limits the appeal of the new phones, according to Brian Riggs, analyst with Current Analysis in Sterling, Va.
"Whats good about this is they are providing a broader, more modern line. The downside is there isnt a huge customer base of the HiPath 8000, especially compared to the HiPath 4000. In about six months the phones will support [Siemens proprietary] protocol stack so it will work with other existing Siemens platforms that have a wider installed base," he said.
With their support for Bluetooth, the OpenStage IP phones allow users to work with their Bluetooth headset, and a V.Card allows address book data to be transferred from a compatible mobile phone and the OpenStage IP phones using Bluetooth.
That support is "fairly unique" in the industry, Riggs said. The OpenStage phones include a USB port that allows users to link to a wireless LAN using a WLAN dongle. In addition to their SIP support, the new Siemens phones support XML, WML, Java and HTML standards.
The four new OpenStage models were designed based on significant user feedback. According to that research, most users want a personal phone book thats integrated with their desk phone as well as a high-quality speaker phone. They also want the ability to share contact information between a mobile phone and PC-based organizer software.
"We took the best of three different worlds—the best of what users like in cell phones, in laptops or in traditional desk phones, and put that in one device," said Al Baker, U.S. vice president of product and service management in San Jose, Calif.
"With OpenStage you have a high quality color VGA screen or you can access what you have in your laptop. And because its Bluetooth-enabled, its a multimedia open device where you can download your own ring tones or have pictures for people associated with caller ID," he said.
The innovations demonstrate that Siemens Enterprise Communications at least in its research and development arm is operating in business-as-usual mode, despite the fact that its parent, Siemens AG, is working to sell the unit, said Riggs.
"If there is one takeaway on the IP phones, the introduction of them is evidence that the Siemens R&D engine is going strong, despite the state of corporate instability. They have in fact been able to keep staff intact and keep it well funded to execute on product development initiatives like these new phones," he said.
The new OpenStage high-end models 60 and 80 are due in January, and the lower-end models 20 and 40 are due in March. They will start at $295.