Throughout history, brave men and women have attempted activities that seem to be impossible, like in 1953 when Edmund Hillary became the first man to conquer Mount Everest, or 1994 when John Travolta resurrected a non-existent acting career with his role in Pulp Fiction. But all of these feats pale in comparison to what Telstra is attempting with the T-Hub: it's trying to make the home phone cool again.
In a time when many people we know are ditching the home phone for a mobile phone/ADSL broadband combination, Telstra is hoping to lure some of yesterday's faithful back into the fold with a 7-inch touchscreen and internet connectivity. And you know what? It just might work.
We enjoyed a brief hands on with the T-Hub at a media briefing today and have walked away impressed. The unit is well designed, and not just aesthetically, but also conceptually. The T-Hub connects to a BigPond broadband service via Wi-Fi and offers a limited range of web services alongside its primary task of being a touchscreen speakerphone. The comparison to mobile phones don't end there, with the T-Hub incorporating a contacts book, calendar and SMS composer.
Web services run through an Opera browser, which optimises the page view for the T-Hub's unorthodox screen size. BigPond web services, like news and weather, run under a customised skin, making articles finger-friendly and easy to read. The T-Hub home screen also provides links to Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, though these sites aren't customised specifically for the T-Hub (other than the standard optimising in the browser), so Telstra provides a stylus for links that may be difficult to press with a finger.
The touchscreen is detachable from its dock, which is great for moving it about the house, but the dock also acts as a subwoofer so you'll want to return the screen to its home before loading up multimedia. The T-Hub can stream YouTube clips or can load certain media files off USB or an SDHC card.
After briefly playing with the T-Hub, its application in the home seems obvious. In a home with several family members, the T-Hub could act as a central information dock, the address book could be filled with numbers used by the entire family, the calendar could show where everyone is day to day, and SMS messages sent to the device could let everyone know when to be home for dinner, or that the kitty litter needs changing before Grandma comes over. A Telstra spokesperson told us that the next generation of home screen apps could link to a cookbook of sorts, displaying ingredients and video guides to preparing meal-time favourites.
So how much will this cost?
At AU$299, the initial outlay for the T-Hub is surprisingly low, considering it also comes with a single cordless handset as well (up to five handsets can be connected to a T-Hub service). But your impression of its affordability may change when you learn you'll also need a compatible Telstra home line and fixed line or wireless broadband package, an example of which is included in the press release we've received; a Home Bundle 12GB plan costs AU$109 per month. The service also requires a wireless router to be installed, which adds to the cost again if your household doesn't currently use one. Prices like these are unlikely to lure back customers who have ditched their home lines for cheaper alternatives, but the T-Hub does seem like a cool addition for homes that currently use a BigPond service bundle. The T-Hub is available from 20 April, check back for a full review around the time of its release.