I hate getting voicemail. The last thing I want to see when I look down at my phone is that stupid little voicemail icon. My messages go unchecked for days if not weeks, and every time I finish going through a backlog, I consider changing my greeting to something like "Please DO NOT leave a message. Send me an email, send me an SMS, or even better, just hang up since my phone will tell me you called anyway." But I don’t because as much as I dislike it, I know voicemail is necessary. And I also realized the other day that it isn’t actually voicemail itself that I dislike so much — it’s the horrible implementation that every mobile phone carrier seems to use.
To get my voicemail, I have to call in, wait, enter a code, wait, listen to the stupid greeting, wait, then navigate through one or more messages using a very clumsy and non-intuitive numeric interface. Even with all the menu options memorized, it still takes far longer than it should.
So how should it be done? Here are two ideas:
- If the call actually reaches the phone, the phone itself should just record the message as an MP3. That way, when I want to hear my voicemail, it’s available instantly. And I should just be able to use the phone’s built-in media player to play my messages so that I have familiar and intuitive controls. Saving, replaying, and deleting messages should be as easy as managing a playlist. The phone could even encode the caller’s phone number into the MP3 itself as an ID3 tag to make it easy to return the call (if the player sees a phone number tag, it could display a "return call" button).
- If the phone is not reachable (if it’s off, or otherwise not receiving a signal), the message could still be recorded on a central server, then automatically and transparently sent to my phone the next time it is available. In other words, rather than sending my phone an alert that I have a message waiting, why not just send the message itself so that it’s actually convenient for me to access?
The idea of recording messages as an MP3 on mobile phones, or even playing downloaded messages on a built-in media player, might have sounded crazy a few years ago, however I’m pretty certain all modern mobile phones now have more than enough CPU power and memory. All that remains is for carriers to make the investment in improving the current horrible voicemail experience.