'Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge': New York City is Calling on Your Creativity

By Peter Bernstein December 06, 2012

In the wake (pardon the expression) of Hurricane Sandy in New York City, one thing that became quite evident is that despite the advent of mobile devices, people still need access to public payphones. However, in thinking about providing the public with critical multimedia access, the City fathers realized that the old standby coin phone of the past makes little sense in the Internet Age, and that the 11,000 payphones that the City currently manages need to be re-imagined not just to meet the demands of today, but also to be compelling for the future. After all, putting aside convenience for daily use and necessity during disasters, the goal is also to generate revenue.

With this in mind, under the auspices of the New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications (DoITT), the city has launched a competition called the, Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge.  In introducing it, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement that, "We're challenging our dynamic and ever-growing tech community to 'Re-Own the Phone' and provide their ideas on what the future of payphones could entail." 

Image via Shutterstock

DoITT Commissioner Rahul N. Merchant said, " To thrive in technology, we need to see things as they are and then imagine them as they might best be…With the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge, we're asking our tech community for new takes on older technology, and inviting designs about how they might enhance the vitality of our public spaces.”

The good news here is that the challenge is basically open to anyone over the age of 18. Thus, if you think you have a vision for the payphone of the future by all means click on the link and register to enter the challenge. The site gives you everything you need to know in terms of dates, times and even who will be judging the challenge. 

It should be noted that this is part of an ongoing effort by New York City to “repurpose” it’s aged and drastically reduced payphone population. As we recently reported, and as the site for the challenge also highlights, the city's payphone contracts set to expire in 2014. In fact, DoITT launched something called "Payphones of the Future" back in July asking the industry for ideas on how they could generate more payphone business.

The response was interesting, including a proposal from City 24/7 to turn payphone locations, because they currently have communications access and power, into touchscreen information kiosks. DoITT approved deployment of 250 of the kiosks. Plus, in July there was another unrelated project to transform some payphone sites into free Wi-Fi hotspots under a pilot program in 10 locations — seven in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn and one in Queens. Indeed, there is an interesting land grab for Wi-Fi placements by the like of Google, Boingo and a host of others, looking to monetize (via subscriptions and/or ads) the explosion of personal devices and the extraordinary amount of traffic they generate in heavily congested areas such as rail terminals and major subway stops.

I will be keeping an eye out for the results of this latest competition. However, if you have an idea you think is a winner, by all means contact me. Whether you call it a futuristic payphone or a multimedia public communications access point or something else, reality is those payphones do need to be re-imaged/repurposed, and that real estate as well as the opportunity for monetization is a big market waiting for a great idea.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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