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?

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