Reading the recent post about the poor state of voice mail, I realized that this is a perfect example of how bad the carriers are at innovation. This problem can be solved quite easily, without requiring a major overhaul of either voice mail systems or handsets. The solution works, more or less, like this:
1. a caller leaves a voice mail for you
2. voice mail system sends an SMS service message (e.g. “Msg from 4155551234 (John Doe) at 1:36pm”)
3. service message contains callback number to hear that specific message and/or URL for the audio file
4. if handset is smart, it fetches the audio file in background, displays it in a conventional inbox arrangement
5. if handset is dumb, it just displays the SMS message, you do a callback to a DID that plays that specific message when you call that DID from your mobile. With a pool of 100-200 DIDs, the phone company can provide random access to voice mail easily (if someone has more than 100 messages in their inbox, something’s wrong). if something goes wrong, the voice mail system defaults back to the usual sequential playback sequence
NOTE: an even better option is just to use MMS, it’s widely available now, but I use SMS to illustrate how this can be made backward compatible with really old handsets.
I am sure I am not the only person to have thought of this, and that somebody, somewhere has probably done this, but every voice mail system I’ve used in the US is stuck somewhere circa 1985. When you understand how easy it would be to improve something so many people use, it certainly makes you wonder what the carriers are thinking, if they’re doing anything besides cashing checks.