“ The BT Multi.phone is the new generation of BT Payphones that offers email, Internet and telephony to tourists, business commuters, leisure travellers. Check the website below for more information. „
Yes, you need eyes in your sternum (or somewhere else on your chest) to use this one, unless you are below average height or a child. How has BT managed to design a kiosk with a screen positioned so low and pointing at such an angle? But more of that later. BT’s Multi.phone is three things. First, a conventional pay telephone (no more to be said about that). Second, an internet terminal, allowing access to the world wide web, including web-based e-mail services. And third, another mangling of the English language as BT needlessly and pathetically tries to invent another word with a spurious full stop in the middle – yeuch. BT Multi.phones are appearing all over the place – there are two in Victoria underground station, for example. The good news is that they allow easy access to the internet. The better news is that until June 2001 internet access on a Multi.phone is totally free and unlimited. The bad news is that they are unreliable and slow, which will act as a very real limitation. They are not exactly catching on like hot cakes either – I have yet to see a queue for one. The kiosk is a free-standing column with a telephone handset and keypad on the left, and a nice screen at chest height. There is no keyboard – to type in urls or anything else, you use a virtual keyboard on the screen, which is touch sensitive. The touch screen is very good indeed; it always accepts my finger touches, unlike many touch screens. BT engineers obviously put a lot of thought into the virtual keyboard – it has lots of clever features which are simple enough to be usable, such as separate keys for http://” and “.co.uk” Having said this, you wouldn’t want to type very much on it, almost vertical and at chest height, standing up. Using the keyboard needs a bit of care because it hides the lower half of the screen. But the worst thing about the screen is that it is angled so low that it
seems designed for someone with eyes in his sternum – and I am only 5ft 10in tall. Standing normally, I actually cannot see the top line of text on the screen, so I have to bend down to read it – ridiculous, BT can do better than this. A Multi.phone can be useful, for example, to pick up and send e-mail (assuming your ISP lets you do that on the web) without lugging a mobile PC around. There are buttons to go directly to various web-based e-mail services (SMS, Talk21, Excite, Hotmail and others), which is good. But, though the keyboard is OK, it isn’t much fun to type long messages on. I’d say it is slightly worse than using SMS on a mobile phone. Plus you may have someone jumping from foot to foot behind you, looking over your shoulder and desperately waiting to use the phone or something – hardly conducive to composing e-mail messages. This device could theoretically be a weapon against social division, providing internet access to the PC-less, but factors like this will count against it. And I have my doubts about the devices’ durability – the printing is already wearing off some in places. So, you can walk up to a Multi.phone and access whatever pages you want, by typing in a url. BT improves on this further by including icons for a number of supposedly useful services on the first page. There are icons for information about local childcare, and entertainments, lastminute.com, a search engine, news, an atlas, a mapping site (the great multimap.co.uk) and others. This is clever too – I can imagine being desperate enough to use a walk-up system to find a map (but you cannot print it out!) or to find some local entertainment. However, I just cannot see anyone desperately needing to find out about childcare, or being in a hurry to order a season ticket (it means typing in credit card details, address and so on, then waiting for the ticket to be posted to your address – definitely not
likely to be a worthwhile thing to do when standing up in a public place!) … this smacks of mild desperation, of BT flailing around looking for a problem to be solved by this “solution”. The Multi.phones are slow. Really slow. Definitely slower than a PC with a 56k modem, never mind ISDN or ADSL. How did BT manage to make anything this slow? On two separate days, trying to access two separate services which I commonly use from home, I had to give up because it was taking minutes to display each page. And that is when the systems are actually working - sadly, the service is not reliable. Most times I have tried to use one (and I have tried five different machines) they work; but on several attempts I got no further than the first screen, receiving a message that a server was unavailable (this never happens normally); one kiosk I know has been malfunctioning for days, and today four out of the four I tried did not work (they all had different problems too)! It is as if BT is in pilot mode but not monitoring the pilot – zero out of ten for effort, BT. So a free service, for now. Pay nothing - get very little in return.