And Then, There Was Voice
By Mike Masnick, Thu Aug 12 23:45:00 GMT 2004

In the rush to come out with new data-centric applications and services, are mobile operators forgetting about voice?


A few years back it felt like wireless operators were completely ignoring the wireless data space. Voice was such a cash cow, that it didn't make sense to shift their focus at all. Everyone knew it was coming, but it certainly wasn't a priority at the highest levels. Lately, however, all you hear about is mobile data, and that's making some people wonder if the operators are missing an opportunity to offer enhanced voice services.

In general, the idea makes sense. Most people still view their mobile phones as a voice device first and a data device second (if at all). Therefore, it makes perfect sense to see if there are ways to extend the product line around the main reason people use a mobile phone. Certainly, there's been a lot of attention focused on improving coverage, reliability and quality. While there's still plenty of room for improvement, there's nothing particularly "enhanced" about it. It's just making sure what they already have works properly.

So, what kind of voice services can be enhanced? The only one described in the article is enhanced voicemail. Voicemail, as most people know, is pretty clunky. The interface hasn't changed much since voicemail was invented twenty-five years ago. It's certainly not easy to navigate -- though, people do tend to memorize the various key commands to make the voicemail process run faster. The voicemail process in the office is beginning to change, as the ideas based on unified messaging systems are finally starting to get adopted -- allowing users to manage their voicemails the way they manage emails. With the improving screens and application interfaces on mobile phones, the theory goes, why not improve voicemail management on the mobile phone as well? It's not a bad idea to improve the voicemail interface, but is it really so important that people would pay for the difference? While multimodal interfaces get plenty of attention, they can be troublesome if they involve having to constantly move a device from your ear (for sound) to a foot in front of your face to view. Besides, most subscribers now view voicemail as a free add-on, and aren't particularly interested in paying anything extra for it -- enhanced or not.

Are there other enhanced data or multimodal services that people would pay for? Already, voice recognition (mainly for voice dialing) on mobile phones is becoming more popular, and the voice recognition industry certainly believes that voice as an interface is still quite important. The quality is improving and related technologies are getting better all the time. However, the last time voice was seen as the new "enhanced" interface for data on the mobile phone, a ton of voice portals launched to let users get news, sports and weather on their phones. Most of these efforts didn't go very far, as that wasn't how people wanted to use their phones. The real answer may be that no one has yet come up with the proper application of voice-to-data in a mobile environment as most efforts have simply focused on moving PC apps to the phone and throwing a voice interface on top. So, while there doesn't appear to be a particular enhanced voice service that's going to set the world on fire right now, it wouldn't hurt for developers to at least remember the importance of voice communication via the mobile phone to many users. While we may be turning into an all thumbs generation, our vocal cords are still quite healthy.