April 9, 2012 — -- You have to feel slightly bad for telephone booths -- not only have cell phones made them relatively useless but as a result, they tend to get sorely neglected.
But the life of a phone booth is about to get much better in New York City.
A company called City24x7 has partnered with New York City to install "SmartScreen" stations at hundreds of old pay phone booths around the city. The touchscreens will display interactive hyper-local neighborhood information, including details about restaurants, stores, and safety alerts. There will also be a 311 icon that allows users to access City information and file complaints.
The stations will also double as wireless hotspots, City24x7 confirmed for ABC News. They won't function as a city-wide wireless offering, and there is no internet search capacity on the touchscreens themselves, but a person who is standing next to or near a station can connect to the Internet for free on their smartphone, laptop, or tablet.
The screens will be installed in locations across all five boroughs next month and will be free to use.
However, the actual landline phones won't be replaced entirely and it will still cost to make a phone call.
The City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications has approved 250 SmartScreens to be installed to begin with, as part of a pilot program, and located only where there are two phone booths. One phone will be replaced with the new screen while the other will remain available to make calls.
"We think this pilot will help us determine what the future of the payphones will be," Nicholas Sbordone, director of external affairs at the city's technology and telecommunications department, told ABC News.
Sbordone explained that the city will use the first SmartScreen stations to get public input and will then use that feedback to craft the next generation of the city's still-standing 12,000 pay phones.