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True Visual Voicemail: PhoneTag, Google Voice and AT&T’s New Voicemail to Text Service

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In case you didn’t realize it, listening to voicemail is a colossal waste of time. Humans read much faster than they can listen, so AT&T’s (s att) entry into the Voicemail to Text field is welcome, but it’s a bit late to the party. Other services have been quietly providing this for years; some less expensive and some more expensive.


Personally, I’ve been a PhoneTag (formerly Simulscribe) subscriber since June 2007 and love the service. PhoneTag replaces your carrier’s voicemail service with its own. PhoneTag will text and/or email you a transcription of your phone messages along with optionally attaching an electronic copy of the voicemail in a variety of formats.

iPhone (s aapl) users who use PhoneTag will lose the ability to use AT&T’s Visual Voicemail, since PhoneTag supersedes the built-in voicemail. Because I can read all my voicemails via email and text, I don’t really mind not having Visual Voicemail.

PhoneTag costs $30 a month (free 1 week trial and other pricing plans available) for unlimited transcriptions and you can forward any number of phones to their service for transcription and the transcriptions go to any number of phones you specify. For example, I have multiple phone numbers for my business and they all forward to that same unified voicemail. When I’m out of town or otherwise inaccessible, the transcriptions go to one of my technicians. Best of all, since the voicemails come in as attachments, I can save every voicemail I’ve ever received right to my computer for daily backup. The transcriptions are nearly flawless, especially if you upload your contacts to the system so you can help it recognize proper names.

Google Voice

On the other end of the spectrum is Google’s free Google Voice service. If you can get an invite, the entire service is free and it also provides transcription of voicemails. Similar to PhoneTag, you’ll need to forward your busy or no answer calls to Google’s phone number.

The transcriptions Google Voice provides border on the ridiculous and I found the service too unreliable for serious business use. Forwarding the messages to multiple phones was difficult and archiving the messages to my computer required manual download of each message. PhoneTag was simply a more elegant and scalable solution when compared to Google Voice. However being free, Google Voice makes a great way to find out if a voicemail to text service is right for you.

AT&T’s New Service

AT&T’s new service costs $9.99 per month — priced squarely in the middle between PhoneTag and Google Voice. Nuance, maker of well-known transcription software Dragon Naturally Speaking, provides the transcription services. Because Nuance is a well-known provider of voice to text services, I suspect it will be much better than Google Voice’s option. While I haven’t tried the service, AT&T claims you can still use your existing voicemail system and similar to PhoneTag and GoogleVoice, makes it easy to archive old messages. Obviously, the service will only work with your AT&T phone.

I’ll stick with PhoneTag due to the quality of its transcriptions and the flexbility of working with multiple phone systems. AT&T’s service is an attractive option for those that don’t need all of PhoneTag’s features.

Now iPhone customers have three options in three different price ranges to avoid listening to voicemail messages and get “true” visual voicemail; voicemails they can read and see without putting their phone up to their ear.

Why are you still actually listening to your voicemails?

7 Responses to “True Visual Voicemail: PhoneTag, Google Voice and AT&T’s New Voicemail to Text Service”

  1. Nice article, Dave.

    It’s great to see the industry picking up on the demand for visual voicemail, something Vonage helped pioneer in 2007 with our Vonage Visual Voicemail feature (full disclosure: I work on the PR team for Vonage). As an industry, I think it’s clear that the real battleground with this technology is in the accuracy of transcription and the cost of the service to customers. Vonage feels confident in its position to lead this market based on our experience with Nuance in which we analyzed hundreds of thousands of prior voicemails to help automate visual voicemail and improve accuracy.

    Vonage Visual Voicemail comes free with the Vonage World plan, so any Vonage customer who uses an iPhone can receive their voicemails as SMS or email messages at no additional cost.


    Michael Zema
    Twitter: Vonage_Voice

  2. Just tried to add AT&T’s voicemail to text and was told it was NOT compatible with the iPhone. Something to do with it having visual voicemail. I asked if we could disable that feature, as I would much rather have voice to text. They said no. Is anyone using this feature yet with a legit ATT iPhone 3GS?

  3. Google voice does archive voicemails and transcripts…just log in via the web, it’s all there.

    Transcriptions are funny but good enough to decide whether to push the button to listen. Suspect they’ll be very good as Google applies more resources to translation (more processing etc etc). They’re just testing the market now : )

  4. Good article…I am happy with Google Voice, although I wish Apple allowed the app to make it easier to use on the iPhone. AT&T’s option seems intriguing since it is totally integrated. Grand Central is just too pricey.