The ShoreTel Dock for the iPad and iPhone -- which was introduced in May 2013 and made generally available in September 2013 -- finally combines the mobility and convenience of a smartphone with the ergonomic design and voice quality of a deskphone.
The ability to transform a mobile phone into a desk phone is an ideal middle-of-the-road option for many kinds of workers. Having access to both work and personal contacts from a familiar interface -- your personal iPad or iPhone -- is an added bonus and an easy transition for many employees who rely on UC and collaboration apps to get their jobs done.
The ShoreTel Mobility application
Before making calls through the ShoreTel Dock, iPhone or iPad users must download the ShoreTel Mobility application through Apple's App Store. The application is easy to get up and running -- first-time users set up an account. Then the application greets users with an "overlay" that introduces them to some of the features of the app and where to find them.
Users can tap into their contacts (aggregated right from the device's contact list), as well as recent calls, voicemail and calendar functions. Upon plugging into the dock, an iPad or iPhone will ask to sync with it. This allows any dialing done on the ShoreTel Dock to be routed through the mobility application -- not the iPhone's cellular connection.
I liked that while plugged into the dock, outgoing calls appear as an office landline on caller ID so that no personal information is shared. Using a personal cell phone for work upends the work-life balance when business contacts start calling at all hours.
The dock operates as a thin client, allowing calls to route through an office VoIP system for a more reliable connection. Should a user need to leave the desk during a call, the dock will hand off the voice session to the Wi-Fi or cellular network without any interruption to the call at all. The call will continue to look like a landline session to the person on the other end.
One issue I did notice is that the dock does not integrate with the call waiting feature of my iPhone. When a call comes through the cellular network, it interrupts the call on my ShoreTel phone number.
ShoreTel Dock handset and physical features
Out of the box, ShoreTel Dock was very easy to get up and running. The only assembly required is snapping the tablet bracket to the dock. Then the user can just plug it into an electrical socket as I did at my home office. During my demo, the ShoreTel Mobility Application relied on my iPhone's Wi-Fi connection for connectivity, and my phone number appeared as a California-based number (where ShoreTel is headquartered). A user in a corporate or home office location, however, can use the Ethernet port to establish a connection with either home or the company's landline.
The dock itself has a simple, slick design. The silver dock is accented with a traditional, black handset on the left and black-buttoned numeric keypad and small sound control keypad -- complete with BlueTooth and speaker buttons and volume controls.
IPad users have the option of rotating the tablet bracket from landscape to portrait mode, depending on the user's preference. While the fully licensed version of the mobility app supports ShoreTel's "Buddies" tab for instant messaging (IM) -- my demo version did not. However, the landscape view from an iPad would be a nice way to achieve an extended view for users who need to check presence, instant messages and collaborate from their tablet.
After downloading the ShoreTel Mobility app on my iPhone and placing it in the dock's iPad/iPhone connector, I was able to immediately make calls. I did notice that once the iPhone was in the dock, it became tricky to dial directly from my iPhone. When dialing a number from the ShoreTel Mobility application's dial pad on my iPhone's touchscreen the volume control kept popping up in front of the numbers, but only while attached to the dock. It's worth noting that the volume control didn't continue to pop up if I was doing anything else within the app -- like scrolling through contacts.
I was able to avoid this problem once I broke the habit of dialing from my iPhone and began using the numeric keypad on the dock itself. iPad users may not have the same experience as I did when dialing right from their tablet.
The handset can be used while calls are in progress and when the device is locked into the connector, but I also enjoyed the speaker quality the dock offered for hands-free calls. The dock also charges devices while plugged into the connector -- a plus for anyone who has ever used an iPhone for an extended period of time throughout a workday.
Possible upgrades in future device releases
One issue that users may encounter with ShoreTel's current Dock model is that the iPhone 5 does not fit into the dock without using an adapter.
The ShoreTel Dock currently only supports iOS devices, which could naturally be problematic for Android and BlackBerry fans. But ShoreTel's Mobility app for smartphones and tablets supports Android, BlackBerry (up to 7.1) and Symbian operating systems, leading me to believe that future releases of the dock may have options for these other platforms.