The Big Apple is looking into upgrading its existing pay phones, and a pilot study is underway that replaces everyone’s favorite anachronism with something a little more 21st-century: giant touchscreens. According the NY Post, the city will unveil 250 revamped phone booths next month that have been revamped with 32-inch touchable displays. These access points would be set up for Skype and other video services, email, wi-fi access, and *11 numbers.
It’s ambitious, and depending on the execution could be a big step forward for public communication points. On the other hand, city dwellers are likely to be skeptical of the devices; smartphone owners will find no use for them, and pay phone users won’t know what to make of them. Are they really going to Skype their dealer?
I kid, but it really is kind of a strange proposition. These enormous screens (32 inches is quite large for a phone booth) will of course make whatever one is doing very public, though they helpfully double as ad screens when not in use. And part of the draw of payphones is the simplicity of their operation. You put in your money, you dial your number, and that’s that. Replacing a system that has the familiarity of decades is no simple task, and this huge screen might be overshooting the mark.
On the other hand, it could also be a great method to provide public wi-fi and information about local businesses — like London’s Smart Bins.” Tourists will almost certainly find them useful. And the smaller 22-inch subway ones will be helpful for navigating the city and announcing trains. But who is the average user of pay phones, and will they find this new system useful? Details are scarce now and only seeing and trying the new booths will tell.
The booths are being installed at no cost to the city, and after the pilot program, 36 percent of ad revenue will be handed over to them. And don’t worry, the screens are waterproof and dustproof, and will be cleaned regularly. No word on whether they’re hack-proof, however, though I can guess.
[image: ishane on Flickr]