New York City Asks Designers to Reinvent the Payphone

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Monday, December 10, 2012
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A mock-up of City 24/7 new NYC phone booth. (Courtesy NYC Department of Telecommunications)

A mock-up of City 24/7 new NYC phone booth. (Courtesy NYC Department of Telecommunications)

With the current rise of smartphones and tablet technology, it is easy for coin-operated payphones to be cast aside as archaic tools of urban communication, but with over 11,000 functioning payphones dotted across New York City alone, these sidewalk staples have become ubiquitous in the urban landscape. And as was a lesson during Hurricane Sandy and other disasters, the payphone can serve as a reliable back-up when cell phone batteries die.

But can the payphone be updated to thrive in the 21st century? New York City is enlisting designers to rethink the role of payphones in today’s New York City, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg officially announcing the “Reinvent Payphones” competition last week.

NYC's Reinvent the Payphone Competition

NYC’s Reinvent the Payphone Competition

Testing out the touchscreen information system

Testing out the touchscreen information system

The design competition announcement comes at a time when payphones are already in the midst of change with various pilot projects in motion across the boroughs. As reported by Gigaom in late November, 250 public payphones are already receiving makeovers and being converted into large iPad-like screens. The touch screen platforms offer one alternative to the outdated payphone but they aren’t the only idea in the works. Back in July, CNNTech reported that some NYC payphones are being revived as free Wi-Fi hotspots as part of another Mayor Bloomberg initiative to expand Wi-Fi accessibility around the NYC area.

The current “Reinvent Payphones” design challenge hopes to finish just in time for the revision of current payphone vendor agreements, which will expire in 2014 and allow new opportunities for system changes. Judges will evaluate visual traits as well as practical traits of each submission including connectivity, functionality, and community impact. The challenge is open to all U.S citizens 18 years of age or older and all entries must be submitted by February 18th, 2013.

For more information and to register for the NYC Reinvent Payphones competition, click here.

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