Linksys and Yahoo! Keep it Simple

If your house is like mine, the number of your favorite Chinese take-out or pizzeria never seems to be handy.

Linksys and Yahoo! have an answer for us. Simply press a button for Yahoo! Local Search on Linksys’ new CIT310 Linksys Dual-Mode (VoIP/PSTN) Cordless Phone for Yahoo! Messenger with Voice. Look up the pizzeria, click to call and place your order. The phone will also store the number so you never have to search again.

“Yahoo! Messenger and Linksys are giving consumers the flexibility to make and receive free Internet calls from the same phone they use for their home line,” says Jeff Bonforte, senior director of Real Time Communications, Yahoo!. “The CIT310 cordless phone is also embedded with the industry-leading Yahoo! Local Search service, to provide consumers with an easy way to find local restaurants and businesses and quickly make a call with one touch.”

Retailing for around $80 and initially available only through Amazon, the CIT310 (specifications) includes a color display cordless DECT handset and a USB base station that plugs into a computer’s USB port and offers a port for a traditional landline connection. Currently Linksys and Yahoo! are offering 100 free Yahoo! Phone Out minutes to any traditional or mobile phone.

One of the smartest things about the CIT310 is what it’s not – a kitchen sink of functions. The CIT310 comes with an elegantly minimal feature set, avoiding feature overload that renders many consumer devices like video recorders impossible to use without lengthy consultations with the manual.

“Because we’re working with a rich services partner like Yahoo we can bring a lot of services to the customer,” explains Tarun Loomba, senior director of product marketing, Linksys Consumer Business Organization. “The question is, which ones? People want the phone to be drop-dead simple. So how do we hone it down to what is going to be a great experience for users.”

This focus on the end-user experience guided the design of the phone and the initial suite of services. The color display brings Yahoo! Messenger buddy list to the phone exactly the way it looks on the desktop. “We wanted it to be as true to the Yahoo! Messenger client experience as possible,” explains Loomba.

In addition to integrating local search capability, the CIT310 also includes one-touch weather reports based on zip code. A small thing, but extremely useful when you think about the number of times you’ve had to boot up the computer, ferret through the stack of old newspapers, or watched the Weather Channel scroll just to get the forecast.

The choice of the DECT cordless technology — the standard cordless technology in Europe recently approved for us in the US — rather than WiFi, is the choice of a proven technology with a track record. Right now DECT is a better choice for simplicity, price and reliability, according to Loomba.

“WiFi phones are in their early days,” he explains. “Leading edge technology isn’t the best for mass market. With DECT you have 100 standby hours and 10 talk hours. You don’t have that with WiFi.”

The CIT310 also advances communications convergence, in this case between the PSTN and VoIP. It lets you consolidate all your communication on a single phone by providing the base station with both PSTN and Internet connections. In keeping with the CIT310’s “one button” approach, you jujst push a button to choose the calling method.

For the future, Linksys is looking to add to the CIT310’s functionality with more Web-based services and keyboard functionality that will enable easy instant messaging. And WiFi functionality will most likely be part of the picture.

“The final stage of the evolution is where you can take it outside to other hotspots,” says Loomba. “For example, it would be a perfect device for campus networks. It’s cheap enough for all students to own. That’s a very powerful application. But,” he adds, “the technology isn’t exactly there.”