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The Return of the Phone Booth
PHOTO: Some New York City phone booths are being remodeled with touchscreens and WiFi.

Image credit: City 24x7

The New York City phone booth, which has looked obsolete in the age of smartphones, is getting more attention than it has in years. During Hurricane Sandy, many New Yorkers with dead cellphone batteries used the booths to make calls for the first time in years. And now, even with the power back on, they might find themselves stopping by more frequently.

Back in April, New York City and a company called City 24 x 7 announced that the city's phone booths were finally going to enter the 21st century, with some being remodeled with Wi-Fi and touchscreens. Seven months later, it turns out that the 25 updated booths were a hit.

The city is now setting up 250 of the high-tech telephone booths around its five boroughs. The booths, or "SmartScreen" stations, which are made in partnership with Cicso and LG, feature 32-inch multi-touch displays with apps that let you search for local restaurants or information. Just walk up to the screen and tap it. The booths will also broadcast a Wi-Fi signal.

"To me, the more exciting piece involved local communities. The overriding thing we heard, and the testing and research confirmed, was that local information was incredibly important to people. The more local our info, the more connected people felt. In turn, the more connected and in-touch with the community they felt, the more embedded the network became," Tom Touchet, CEO of City 24×7, told ABC News.

Local issues are going to be an even larger part as more booths are deployed in New York. A percentage of the ad money made from advertising on the booths will be given to speed recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy. Touchet said the mission of the booths is to "inform, protect, and revitalize." The booth's screens can also display emergency and safety information.

New York City is one of the first cities to get the smart booths, and others will have them soon. The company, along with Cisco, plans to expand to more than a dozen U.S. locations, including Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington.

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