Cell Phonies

Several years ago, I remember discovering a little shop at Oakbrook Center displaying cell phones by a company called PrimeCo. The phones weren’t particularly special, but one feature really caught my eye: at any time, you could select a command on the phone and be shown your current account balance.

Fast-forward to the present. PrimeCo is no more, and its domain name forwards to U.S. Cellular. They offer a similar balance feature: just dial #BAL, then choose 1 for English, then enter your 10-digit account number, then please hold while your account is being accessed, then… who the hell knows. I hung up.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Carriers are supposed to be able to provide a superior experience because they control every device that connects to their network. In fact, here in the U.S. their power is even greater because of the huge popularity of “free” phones provided with contracts.

Yet rather than use the power to demand better, more integrated hardware, they’re actually reducing functionality1. That’s gotta stop, and then maybe they can take a look at how to actually improve the phone experience. There are plenty of obvious ones (standardized phone books that can be easily synched, menus that actually make sense, ringtones that don’t annoy the room) but let me also float my own idea: integrated voicemail.

What if your phone connected directly to your voice mailbox, using your screen to provide the information normally read to you? With a voice mail menu, you could see call information merged with your in-phone phonebook. Rather than hearing “Your callback number is 3..1..2..” you could see a list:

=Thursday 2:12p
Mom, Work  -  42s
=Wednesday 11:12a
Neff Cell - 1m12s

You could scroll up and down, highlight any message and choose “play” or “delete”. No need to navigate through voice-prompts and touchtones. See at a glance what it takes RoboGirl precious seconds to read out.

And, you know, make the carriers’ iron-fisted control actually work for you for a change.

1 Multiple carriers are disabling Bluetooth wireless support in an effort to force users to transfer files (for a fee) over the cellular networks.

Hit Me With It