Can Apple, Inc. Use Siri to Transform Voice Mail?

Apple is reportedly working on a voice-to-text feature that would eliminate the need to listen to your voice mails.

Chris Neiger
Chris Neiger
Aug 4, 2015 at 6:00PM
Technology and Telecom

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has long been in need of a few upgrades for Siri. Sure, the iPhone's virtual assistant is great at issuing timely reminders, setting alarms, or dividing 0 by 0, but as Google's and Microsoft's virtual assistants have become smarter, Apple's need for more and better Siri features has grown.

Perhaps that's why the company is reportedly testing a voice mail transcription feature powered by Siri that can answer the phone when you can't, turning voicemails into readable text, according to Business Insider.

The feature is called iCloud Voicemail, and in addition to transcribing voice mails, Siri would also inform some callers where you are and why you can't answer the phone. This last aspect of iCloud Voicemail feels a bit strange; it would likely only work for a set of predetermined contacts. 

Apple employees are reportedly testing iCloud Voicemail right now and the earliest the new service would launch is some time next year. And while it's not a must-have Siri feature, the move comes as smartphone users continue to shy away from checking their voice mail (sorry, Mom, just text me!).   

Source: Apple.

Don't teave a message
According to a 2014 survey conducted by Nuance Communications (which created the voice recognition tech behind Siri), 85% of smartphone users say text messages are more convenient than voice mails. 

The survey encompassed 1,000 smartphone users aged 18 to 65, and found that: "Given a choice, 62 percent of people would most likely switch to a voice-to-text messaging system from a traditional voice mail system to stay better connected on the go."

The survey also found that voice mails can go unnoticed for hours, and that 66% of respondents would rather get news from a friend via a text-based message than from a voice mail.

Nuance offers up its own voice mail-to-text service and while it's unclear how exactly Apple's might work (and whether Nuance would be involved), the data above shows why the iPhone maker would want to incorporate such a service into its phones.

Delete your expectations
While adding a voice-to-text feature through Siri will be a great addition for iPhone users, it's not going to be a game-changing feature for the devices or iOS. 

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Judging by the name, Apple might pair iCloud Voicemail with a subscription to iCloud, but don't expect much (if any) revenue from this if it does. In fiscal Q3 2015, Apple earned $2.6 billion from its "other services" category, which includes sales from the Apple Watch, Apple Music, iPods, Apple TV, and iCloud. Even if Apple does pair the voice mail feature to an iCloud subscription, I doubt many iPhone users would pay for iCloud just to have their voice mails transcribed. 

I think the bigger picture here is that Apple is simply looking for new ways to make Siri more useful to iPhone users and to set itself apart from other virtual assistants. Apple likes to slowly roll out new features in its devices that add value to the product and spur interest in device and software upgrades -- and having Siri answer your voice mails would be a good, albeit small, way to do that.