Feature Request: Better Mobile Voicemail

One of the more annoying aspects of using a cellphone (beyond dropped calls and bad reception) has to be dealing with voice mail. I understand why there needs to be a least-common-denominator interface into voicemail, so it is accessible from any phone and from anywhere, but let’s face it, a touch-tone user interface is a terrible way to deal with voice messages. There are two huge improvements to voicemail that I’d like to see the carriers offer. I’d probably switch to a carrier that made these things possible.

First, I’d like to be able to set my voicemail system to automatically forward voicemails I receive as a .WAV or .mp3 attachment to an email account of my choice. This would be extremely simple for any carrier to enable. I use an effective little service called MaxEmail that does this for my home phone number, which I have forward to my MaxEmail number if I don’t answer at home. This allows my wife and I to receive voicemails and faxes as attachments on our Sidekicks or email client of our choice. And my Cisco phone system at work does this as well. But the annoying missing link is my mobile number, where I actually receive the most voicemails.

The second feature I’d like to have would be a voicemail client that runs directly on my phone that downloads all voicemail messages to my phone in the background and would allow me to easily navigate my voicemail queue without resorting to the tortured call-in touch-tone interface. Phones have more than enough memory and local processing power these days to pull this off. With data-capable phones as common as they are, I resent the fact that I need to call-in to get my messages.

Of course, I can think of a reason why the carriers aren’t interested in doing this: airtime charges. Every time I call in to my voicemail system, I am burning off the minutes in my plan. If I make enough calls into voicemail (and who doesn’t do this at least once a day), checking my messages becomes a revenue opportunity for the carrier, especially if I am traveling and they can tack roaming charges on top of those minutes.

So I’m not holding my breath for my wireless carrier to suddenly adopt a user-centric attitude, but at least I can dream, right?

Technorati Tags: , , ,

  • Sam

    I always thought voicemail was *supposed* to be accessed through the phone. But once we got our Lingo box and I realised I could just have it store voicemail on my email server, my perspective changed quickly. Once you get used to receiving voicemails as email attachments, it’s hard to even imagine going back to dialing in. And the great thing about the Lingo system is that the entire dial-in voicemail system still works just the same. So if I’m away from email, I can still call in and retrieve my messages, it’s just that the messages are stored on my server, not theirs, so as soon as I click ‘receive email’ on my computer, the voicemail is in my inbox (actually, in my ‘voicemail’ folder).
    Moving on to the important bit, though: i think there is a way around your problem – two, actually.
    1. GSM call forwarding
    Instead of having your phone forward to voicemail when you don’t answer (or it’s off) just have it forward to a different number. This number could be one where you can receive voicemail messages in your email. This is all standard for GSM systems. Your phone is actually forwarding even in ‘standard’ mode, but it’s forwarding to your voicemail number. Just forward it elsewhere (and this is customisable for a number of different ‘states’, i.e. forward always, forward when busy, forward when no answer, etc.).
    2. Simultaneous Ring
    On my Lingo phone I can set it to ring simultanously on the home Lingo box or on my mobile. If I pick up my mobile, then it forwards it there. If I pick up neither, then the voicemail can pick up on the Lingo phone (not the mobile) and then I have voicemail as email.

  • I’ve been using this ( http://www.gotvoice.com/) service for a while, and I’ve been very pleased.
    I can take the incoming voicemails, put them into itunes, and then tagging them using the “Grouping” field. Its any easy way to retrieve your voicemails, as well as to pass them off to other people when you want to delegate a task based on that voicemail.
    Maybe I’ll write a post describing the workflow…

  • I do this right now with my Vonage VoiceMail. They email to my SideKick phone and I can listen to them as WAV files.
    I wish they were in MP3 or some smaller format as especially long VoiceMails exceed some size limit for the SideKick.

  • I’ve been using CallWave for a few months and it’s great (and free). It uses GSM call forwarding to swap your phone’s existing VM for theirs, then sends you GSM-encoded WAV files, plus stores a copy on the web for accessibility when you can’t get your email. I then set up a script on my mail server to recognize the incoming VM emails, re-encode the attachment as MP3 and send it back to my cellphone as an MMS with MP3 attached. I can then listen to my voicemails on my phone, and have them also in my email inbox.
    Re-encoding as MP3 also fixes issues where some media players (like, I think quicktime on the mac) don’t like GSM-encoded audio inside a WAV wrapper. MP3s are rarely a problem, and the transcoding doesn’t affect quality much.