In New York City, the payphone is out and, slowly but surely, the Link is in.

Link is the city’s name for its new kiosks — tall, narrow structures with slick ads on either side, a small tablet in the center, and a beta warning slapped across the back corners.

linknycThe LinkNYC program is the city’s spiritual successor to the aging payphone, and it’s been in the works for years (and years). But the kiosks only debuted last month, when the city flipped a switch and began beaming free Wi-Fi from them, blanketing slivers of Manhattan’s 3rd Avenue with connectivity.

Today marks a big step in New York’s tedious rollout of the Link: The city is turning on the Link’s tablet functionality, enabling passersby to place calls, browse the Web, recharge a smartphone, and access Google Maps — all for free — at select kiosks.

Just 16 of the city’s 40 Links are functional today, stretching from 14th Street to 45th. But a city spokesperson tells us “there will be 500+ Links across all five boroughs by mid-July (And 7,500+ across the City over the next 8 years).”

For both the rollout and the tablet itself, the city is deliberately starting small. For now, the Link works like a simple Android tablet void of an app store.

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With four apps in total, the Link just barely meets the minimum criteria of what you would expect from a modern-day tablet. But at a press briefing yesterday, representatives of the project described ways the Link may evolve, suggesting features like transit alerts, community notices — even the possibility of turning the Link into a voting booth. While the makers of the Link — the City of New York, Qualcomm, Alphabet’s Intersection, and municipal connectivity company Civiq Smartscapes — will remain its gatekeepers, representatives of the group said it will seek out developer submissions and partnerships to bring new apps to the kiosks.


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