The thing was that all services required you to use a Web browser to access the information. But we all know there are more mobile phones in the world than computers. So why not use those devices? The missing element was "voice". Voice activated services, such as text-to-speech and speech recognition are the key to access unified messaging services.
My interest on this subject was mainly because of some of the projects the company I was working for, Unisys, had in progress. Those included voice messaging, unified voice messaging, voicexml etc. I even wrote a sms-to-landline service and our team was involved in deploying a flat menu-based voice mail service. Alas those are things that run on mainframe hardware.
A few years later, I am still curious about those things. Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 now provides an unified messaging paradigm (I wrote about it here and here), but not all companies or small businesses run Microsoft Exchange Server.
Today I got a tip about an interesting service, called ifbyphone. I registered to the free trial using my SkypeIn number in San Francisco (you can register from anywhere, but some services seem to be only available in the U.S.) and gave it a work out.
Ok, the flash introduction is a bit cheesy. But you can go over that. The registration requires a 10 digit number, which must map to a U.S number (hence using my SkypeIn number instead of my New Zealand number) and it's painless. You will be automatically assigned an e-mail address within the @ifbyphone.com domain, with webmail access.
You can configure other external e-mail addresses with both POP3 and IMAP server types supported. The service allows you to call the access number and be automatically identified (if you don't block the Caller ID). After entering a PIN you have access to e-mail, headline news, weather alerts, reminders, notes, even RSS feeds you configure into your account.
You can press a menu option number on your keypad at any time, or simply say a command. Speech recognition is vey good, even with my funny accent.
An interesting feature is the e-mail keyword monitoring. You can setup the service to check your mailbox(es) and call your number if an e-mail arrives with any of the keywords. I tried this and it really works. Nice.
The service still needs a bit of polishing. Like some of the live menus play different voices (male and female). I'd like to have all a single voice style, perhaps being able to select via a menu to have one or another? Also all the menus are a bit confusing, but once you find your way around, it's ok.
Of course you can have some of these features if you use a Pocket PC and a program such a Fonix Voice Central. But then you are not using a simple mobile phone.
So there you go. It's what I was looking for, five years ago. Live now.
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