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Smart screens to replace phone booths in NYC

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Phone booths stationed in New York City will be given a new lease of life -- by becoming 'smart' in a pilot program beginning next month.

Phone booths -- once a useful tool in many major cities. Now, mobile phones have rendered them all but useless, and they generally remain only as a neglected reminder of outdated technology.

However, approximately 250 phone booths stationed in New York City will be given a new lease of life -- by becoming 'smart' in a pilot program beginning next month.

Partnering with New York City, company City24x7 will be installing the 'SmartScreen' stations at hundreds of old, rarely used pay phone booths dotted around the city. The touchscreen machines will display local neighborhood information, business listings, stores and safety alerts in a number of languages.

These functions may be aimed at tourists, but locals can also use a 311 icon to access city information and file complaints if they wish.

The stations are ad-supported, and so information services are free. The partnership aims for each booth to eventually serve as wireless hotspots (probably the most useful feature for NY locals), allow the use of services including Skype and email checks -- although these features will not be included in the pilot scheme.

The landline itself will not be completely replaced by the 32-inch smart screens, and it will still cost to make a call using the booth.

The New York Post reports that Nicholas Sbordone, a spokesman for the city's department of Information Technology and Telecommunications said:

"The goal is to pilot it and see what the response is. It will help inform the city's ongoing reassessment, with public input, of what we want or what we think the future of public pay phones will entail."

For those that are concerned about the hygiene of these booths, City24x7 has stated that the smart screens should be cleaner than the average ATM -- with waterproof designs and the fact they are safe to hose down.

If the pilot proves successful and the plan is fully implemented, New York City will take a cut of 36 percent in capital generated by advertisements.

After the pilot scheme has generated enough public feedback, the next stage will be to rollout the smart screens to all of the remaining 12,000 pay phone booths in New York City.

Image credit: Screenshot/City24x7

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure