Get Me The Bat Phone

November 22, 2006
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His friends and colleagues call it the “bat phone.”

Not many people have the bat phone’s number, explains NuSoft Solutions President Keith Brophy, and that is by design. When this cell phone rings, it does so with urgency. His other cell phone, a high-power motherbox of constant communication, doesn’t really do that.

Like many in his profession and the service sector in general, Brophy’s day is populated with an endless stream of communication input from clients, staff and partners. He spends most of a typical day, which starts early in the morning and ends late at night, in either face-to-face meetings or teleconferences. Through all of these, outside communication — dozens of voicemails, hundreds of e-mails and text messaging — doesn’t stop.

He has an assistant to help filter the communication, but it remains an intense flow. She makes appointments from the home base, which show up immediately on his Blackberry calendar, creating more details to sort through.

“I have to make very efficient use of my time,” he said. “I need to be able to get my voicemail as well as triage the e-mails very quickly. I’ve had days where it takes up to an hour or more simply to sequence through the voice mail. … The mobile phone has brought us tremendous productivity; I can do things I never dreamed of from a restaurant or from a mountaintop in Colorado. But there are limitations.”

For example, an urgent message might get lost within this landslide of information. When a message appears on the bat phone, he knows it’s urgent. Also, the high-featured phone sucks through battery life, while his voice-only unit does not. Surprisingly, when one phone doesn’t have coverage, the other almost always does, though they share the same carrier.

When teleconferencing, he often uses both simultaneously, talking on the smaller unit and e-mailing or referencing the larger phone, or sometimes setting down one phone to call someone to answer a quick question on the other. Perhaps someone at the Seattle office needs to see the presentation sent to the Ohio office — a quick e-mail can solve that and move the meeting along.

Through the use of Bluetooth headsets and three-way calling, this is theoretically possible with just one phone. Brophy, generally regarded as one of the region’s leading technologists, knows this, but questions the practicality of those features.

“I think that, in the world at large, there are probably three failed attempts to juggle people on a cell phone for every one that succeeds,” Brophy said. “It’s physically and logistically tough to do with the one-phone model. What surprises me is that there are so many of these small trivial interactions that become more convenient with this second-phone, steroid approach.”

Of course, there is a strong downside to the two-phone model.

“It looks a bit geeky,” Brophy admitted. “I’ve had many comments from people when I walk into somewhere with my two phones, and for social reasons, I’ve taken to hiding one in my back pocket and not carrying both of them in the same hand at the same time.”

As it turns out, Brophy is not alone in what has become a unique, “sideways” technology trend. Some professionals — especially those routinely on call, such as public relations professionals and emergency responders — have taken to carrying such a “bat phone” because of the urgent nature of the communications.

For Eileen McNeil, vice president of community and public relations at communications firm Seyferth Spaulding Tennyson, this is somewhat the case, but not in the redundant manner Brophy employs. Her Blackberry is the company phone, while the other she uses as a substitute for a home phone.

Likewise, The Rehmann Group’s Kristen Meyers, the immediate past president of the Ad Club of West Michigan, often gets caught “double-fisting” her two phones, one to each ear. When she joined the professional services firm earlier this year, she received a company phone. This was a corporate carrier, so the personal number she had used professionally for a half decade could not be merged into it.

“It just didn’t make sense to drop it,” she said. “All my Ad Club contacts have that number; everyone uses it. Then, as a mom with kids, that’s the number they know, and all the schools have that number.”

On the other side, the company’s VoIP phone system is integrated with employee cell phones, so calls to her desk are routed directly to her cell phone. As such, she has opted to carry both phones.

This is the only situation Future Communications President Janet Wick could conceive of a client using two cell phones — if the business and personal uses are kept separate.

“There was a time when you’d see people carrying two for different things,” she said. “But not as much anymore.”

Especially with the growing availability of broadband Internet, she believed that most people would be best suited to a Blackberry, Treo or similar all-in-one device for voice, data and e-mail. She said the launch of Verizon’s broadband service in West Michigan earlier this month should make that integration even more convenient.

John Eichinger, vice president of Irwin Seating’s international group, has an entirely different motive for his two-phone model. One phone will work almost anywhere on the globe, with a U.S. number. The other is local to Spain, where he’s spent a great share of the past two years implementing a reorganization strategy.

“When I’m in Spain and I call on the world phone, I might be standing on the other side of an intersection, telling someone where to turn, and it’ll ring through as an international call,” he explained.

So, Eichinger has one phone that allows people to reach him wherever he is in the world, which he uses to make calls when in the Western Hemisphere. The other he uses only in Europe

On a related note, he said that the Skype Internet phone service has reduced his team’s communication costs over the past 12 months much more than a second phone ever could. Skype allows calls to be made from any computer, and since it is a VoIP system, there are no long-distance fees.

“Now if I want to talk to one of my kids for an hour just because the football team lost, I can do that,” Eichinger said.    

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