About a year ago, I needed a new landline telephone. I work at home, and while I have an iPhone with an unlimited contract, I use a landline for certain things. For one, I don’t like giving my cellphone number out to just anyone; I don’t want to get called by businesses, administrations, or other people I don’t know while I’m in my car or out shopping. For another, when I’m on long business calls on my landline, I don’t have to worry about the battery, and I know I can still easily use my iPhone for other tasks while I'm on the phone.
I settled for an average cordless phone which has decent sound and very good battery life, but being used to an iPhone, I missed a relatively simple feature: having my contacts on the device. Yes, the phone manufacturer makes a Mac application that lets me transfer contacts via Bluetooth, but the interface is so clunky and the process such a pain that I never updated it after my first sync.
So I was thinking: What if Apple made a landline iPhone? It wouldn’t be as powerful or as fast as an iPhone, but it wouldn’t necessarily need to be. It also wouldn’t need a retina display. It wouldn’t be metal, and it might not even have glass. It wouldn’t have much RAM or a fast graphics chip, because those features wouldn’t be needed.
Instead, it would be more like a stripped-down iPhone, with the ability to run certain basic Apple apps—Contacts, Messages, Calendar, Reminders-and no third-party apps. It wouldn’t have to have a Lighting connector, because it would just slip into a charging cradle. Best of all, it would sync all your contacts, calendars, and reminders over Wi-Fi, using your iCloud account.
Since such a phone would be used by families, or by small businesses, it could offer multiple user accounts. Imagine that you pick up the phone to make a call and either tap on an icon for your user, or swipe to get to your home screen. You enter a PIN—you don’t necessarily want your data accessible to the rest of your family—and you can then make calls to your contacts, send text messages to your friends, and view your calendar.
Sound weird? Perhaps. But consider that, in much of the world, people still use landlines. In the United States, landline phones are slowly fading away to the nether corners of that closet where you store old gadgets, but in other countries the way telephone companies charge customers makes the devices very practical. Since the majority of Apple’s sales are outside the U.S.—more than 60 percent in the most recent quarter—the idea shouldn’t be discounted just because it might not work in the United States.
Telephone companies in many countries charge much more to call mobile phones than landlines, and people who talk a lot might not want to pay for long calls on their cellphone contract. For example, I live in France, and I can call landlines in more than 100 countries for free. But to talk to a friend in England on a cellphone, I have to pay about €10 (around $13.50) an hour, which means that long conversations are expensive. (This is why Skype is so popular in Europe; unfortunately, Skype calls tend to drop often over a cellular network.)
If Apple wanted to go a bit further, the landline iPhone could also handle FaceTime, though this would require a faster processor and graphics processor. But this would be the perfect “grandparents” phone for people who want to have video chats with relatives. It would be much easier to use and set up than an iPhone—it wouldn’t need to be activated, and there are fewer settings and options—and could be sold cheaply enough to be competitive.
Some businesses might want to use it too. They could provide access to a central directory of contacts, and if the device could interface with a PBX, it would be usable in all types of companies.
A landline iPhone could be an interesting element in the Apple ecosystem, too. It would connect with existing devices, reinforce the use of iCloud, and provide a low-cost entry to the Apple world for people who may not have iPhones. (In fact, Apple clearly considered such a product at least once before; images of a prototype circa 1983 have long since surfaced online.)
There are plenty of rumors about Apple releasing a cheaper iPhone, and any such phone would have to make compromises of the kind I mentioned above: CPU, flash storage, display, etc. So why not a landline?
Image via Hammacher Schlemmer