ThougtPiece: Why BlackBerrys Need Random Access Voicemail

10 Comments

Surely one of the most annoying aspects of everyday cell phone usage is simply retrieving your voicemail. David Pogue of the New York Times captures the experience in his usual good humor:

…the carriers make you listen to a woman who has evidently overdosed on Ambien. “You have. Seven. New. Messages. You have. Two. Saved messages. To listen to your messages, press 1. When you are finished, you may hang up, or press 5 for more options. I will now read the Manhattan White Pages.”


Random access voicemail, also called visual voicemail, is one application that is long overdue. For those who don’t know what this is, visual voicemail displays your voicemails in a fashion similar to your emails. At a glance you see a list of who has left you voice messages, and you click to hear the voicemail. If it sounds simple, it is, and that’s why it’s long overdue.

Technology designer Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini sums it up nicely when he writes:

..It’s also speaks to the limited vision of the cell phone industry. Exactly why have we never had random-access voicemail on cell phones? We’re talking about hand-held devices with more computer power than the Apollo spacecraft that took us to the moon. We’re talking about devices with screens of more than sufficient resolution. Could nobody think of displaying the messages?

Visual voicemail is an application that is ideally suited for BlackBerry users. Many BlackBerry users are busy professionals who are inundated with voice mails. The BlackBerry is a device known for its email, and so creating an email-like interface for voicemails would seem to be a natural match.

This is why it’s a shame that it will be Apple that drives this feature to the mass market. I don’t know what patents Apple or AT&T have on this application, or if there are good third party providers that RIM could partner with, but it seems to me that RIM should not allow Apple to have this application all to themselves, and come out with its own version native on all BlackBerrys.

An interesting point is that RIM had thought of this as early as 2005 and came out with this press release announcing a partnership with a company called Comverse to introduce visual voicemail into the BlackBerry platform. Perhaps some of our thoughtful readers out there can offer some insight as to what exactly happened with this idea.

Voicemail as it exists on cell phones these days is a relic from the past, and deserves a serious upgrade in visual voicemail. The technology is readily available, and RIM should be a leader in bringing this to the market.

  • http://www.simulsays.com/ Dennis

    Random Access voicemail already exists for BlackBerrys – it’s called SimulSays and I found out about it through BlackBerryCool:
    http://www.blackberrycool.com/2007/05/09/004389/

    I’m running Simulsays on both a Pearl and an 8800 and it’s fantastic. Not only do I have random access to my voicemail on my display, I also have it working with a service called Simulscribe that automatically converts my voice messages to text so I can pick and choose my messages and read them without ever having to listen to them. I checked out the Simulsays website and it seems it only works on late model BlackBerrys.

  • http://www.simulsays.com Dennis

    Random Access voicemail already exists for BlackBerrys – it’s called SimulSays and I found out about it through BlackBerryCool:
    http://www.blackberrycool.com/2007/05/09/004389/

    I’m running Simulsays on both a Pearl and an 8800 and it’s fantastic. Not only do I have random access to my voicemail on my display, I also have it working with a service called Simulscribe that automatically converts my voice messages to text so I can pick and choose my messages and read them without ever having to listen to them. I checked out the Simulsays website and it seems it only works on late model BlackBerrys.

  • http://www.blackberrycool.com/ Simon

    While the applications are out there, I’m curious why BlackBerry hasn’t integrated the functionality. It should come part and parcel with the UI, as Apple’s doing. We’ve also been in close touch with SimulSays, so keep an eye out for future reviews.

  • http://www.blackberrycool.com Simon

    While the applications are out there, I’m curious why BlackBerry hasn’t integrated the functionality. It should come part and parcel with the UI, as Apple’s doing. We’ve also been in close touch with SimulSays, so keep an eye out for future reviews.

  • http://crackberry.com/best-wes-2007-simulscribe Ashton

    SimulScribe – http://www.simulscribe.com also does the same thing. It even won a Best of WES Award (link above).

  • http://crackberry.com/best-wes-2007-simulscribe Ashton

    SimulScribe – http://www.simulscribe.com also does the same thing. It even won a Best of WES Award (link above).

  • http://crackberry.com/best-wes-2007-simulscribe Ashton

    SimulScribe – http://www.simulscribe.com also does the same thing. It even won a Best of WES Award (link above).

  • Thought

    Thanks for everyone’s input.

    #1 and 3: you are correct in there being 3rd party solutions out there, but as #2 notes, the key is making this feature a native part of all BlackBerry’s.

    Many people don’t bother to search for and find 3rd party apps, and in many cases, corporations will not allow users to place such additional software on their BBs.

    The easiest solution is simply for RIM to have this functionality preinstalled on all BB’s.

    When the Apple iPhone hits, one feature that everyone will be talking about will be visual voicemail. In fact, it will be the most utilitarian feature of the entire phone; the rest of its enhanced features are pretty much for fun. If RIM or some other competitor doesn’t get on board with this feature, then I guarantee you that Apple will become the company known as the one that exclusively brought this feature to the mass market. It would then become a given in most people’s minds that the way to get this feature is to go to Apple.

    The irony is that as noted, in 2005 RIM seemed to be moving in this direction. If they had executed on their plan, they would have had another huge feather in their cap. I wonder why? Perhaps carrier pressures? After all, carriers have stuck with the old voicemail system for one reason: it forces users to eat more minutes of airtime.

  • Thought

    Thanks for everyone’s input.

    #1 and 3: you are correct in there being 3rd party solutions out there, but as #2 notes, the key is making this feature a native part of all BlackBerry’s.

    Many people don’t bother to search for and find 3rd party apps, and in many cases, corporations will not allow users to place such additional software on their BBs.

    The easiest solution is simply for RIM to have this functionality preinstalled on all BB’s.

    When the Apple iPhone hits, one feature that everyone will be talking about will be visual voicemail. In fact, it will be the most utilitarian feature of the entire phone; the rest of its enhanced features are pretty much for fun. If RIM or some other competitor doesn’t get on board with this feature, then I guarantee you that Apple will become the company known as the one that exclusively brought this feature to the mass market. It would then become a given in most people’s minds that the way to get this feature is to go to Apple.

    The irony is that as noted, in 2005 RIM seemed to be moving in this direction. If they had executed on their plan, they would have had another huge feather in their cap. I wonder why? Perhaps carrier pressures? After all, carriers have stuck with the old voicemail system for one reason: it forces users to eat more minutes of airtime.

  • Thought

    Thanks for everyone’s input.

    #1 and 3: you are correct in there being 3rd party solutions out there, but as #2 notes, the key is making this feature a native part of all BlackBerry’s.

    Many people don’t bother to search for and find 3rd party apps, and in many cases, corporations will not allow users to place such additional software on their BBs.

    The easiest solution is simply for RIM to have this functionality preinstalled on all BB’s.

    When the Apple iPhone hits, one feature that everyone will be talking about will be visual voicemail. In fact, it will be the most utilitarian feature of the entire phone; the rest of its enhanced features are pretty much for fun. If RIM or some other competitor doesn’t get on board with this feature, then I guarantee you that Apple will become the company known as the one that exclusively brought this feature to the mass market. It would then become a given in most people’s minds that the way to get this feature is to go to Apple.

    The irony is that as noted, in 2005 RIM seemed to be moving in this direction. If they had executed on their plan, they would have had another huge feather in their cap. I wonder why? Perhaps carrier pressures? After all, carriers have stuck with the old voicemail system for one reason: it forces users to eat more minutes of airtime.