The smartphone and tablet are taking the world by storm and this information isn’t lost on Altigen Communications the company who literally revolutionized the communications space in the nineties by merging the best of the PC and telephone into an office phone system for small companies. I remember meeting the company’s VP of Marketing Gary Andresen in 1996 as he showed the fascinating concept of merging the best of the PC and telephony worlds. For the next ten years or so Altigen evolved and went upmarket but in the past few years they’ve been very quiet. Part of the reason for the slowing in PR and marketing has to do with the company retooling its portfolio and evolving its strategy.
Going forward Altigen hopes to ride a huge wave of growth by developing products for existing ecosystems and subsequently taking advantage of a user base in need of new products and services.
For example the company augments Microsoft Lync with call center functionality as well as a smartphone/server combo known as MaxMobile which allows SIP over WiFi, Exchange 2010 UM sync, codec resource management, transcoding and more. In addition, MaxMobile also works within the Broadsoft ecosystem, allowing carriers to offer enhanced services to their customers.
Getting back to smartphone growth, Altigen has developed a new phone called iFusion SmartStation which acts as a high-end speakerphone or landline/office phone replacement meant primarily for iPhone users.
A simple device, it is a phone with a dock for an iPhone and a set of controls for bluetooth connectivity, speakerphone, volume and mute. The phone comes in black and white and I’ve tested both. They work well and the handset has a very solid feel to it – very professional and sturdy.
In addition, there is a mini USB port to allow a connection between the phone and PC for iPhone syncing, as well as a stereo 3.5mm jack allowing you to enhance the sound of your music by sending it to external speakers. You can also pair multiple iPhones/Bluetooth devices with the iFusion.
I have spent some time discussing the new phone with the company’s Sr. Director, Corporate Strategy, Niel Levonius and he explained you can pair the iFusion with any Bluetooth phone and moreover you can use it with Skype – either running on your smartphone or on your PC. I asked him about whether there is a micro USB version coming allowing the easy insertion of Android devices for example and he said the challenge is these other phones don’t have a 30-pin connector meaning they aren’t necessarily designed to dock. Moreover, as he points out, phones have their micro USB connectors at random locations making the situation even more challenging. The company expects to come out with some innovative designs in the second half of 2012 which should accommodate many more phone types.
Another discussion I had with Niel was about the “grabby” nature of the phone with regards to Bluetooth. I noticed this first when I was listening to streaming radio via a Bluetooth stereo A2DP device and when I got within about 20-30 feet of my office, the audio started to come out of the phone instead of my headset. Niel says there is a firmware upgrade allowing you to switch the phone between this mode and another where it won’t be as “grabby.”
One other suggestion I mentioned to Niel but haven’t had a chance to hear back on was possibly getting rid of the cord to the handset by using Bluetooth, DECT, etc. This obviously presents new challenges as you now have sound traveling wirelessly from the cell tower to the mobile phone then via Bluetooth to the iFusion and then wirelessly again to the handset. I am interested in hearing Niel’s take and will share it when he responds.
In the meantime, at under $200, the Altigen iFusion SmartStation is a good phone worth buying either as a high-end speakerphone, eye candy for the executive desk or as a replacement for an office phone in conjunction with a shift from landline to mobile devices.