Friday, August 07, 2009

T-Mobile Visual Voicemail Problems

T-Mobile recently released their Visual Voicemail application in the Android market. It had some launch problems, but those are mostly smoothed out at this point. The app works pretty well, and I'm glad that they have finally implemented it. However, the app does have its share of first-release problems. They are listed here, in the order that I hope T-Mobile addresses them.

VVM doesn't work with Wifi. Most people probably have Wifi enabled on their phones. After all, it's the most efficient (both bytes / time and power / byte) way to tranfer data. However, VVM doesn't work with Wifi. It will neither notify you of new voicemails, nor will it download new messages. In order to make it work, you need to

  1. Turn off Wifi
  2. Wait or click "Synchronize Voicemails"
  3. Turn Wifi back on
Call me crazy, but that's just stupid. At the very least, the "Synchronize Voicemails" button should do those steps for you, similar to the My Account app. There has been some FUD about the reason for this omission. Some people claim that it's for "security". I'm going to make this perfectly clear: there is no security-related reason to prevent people from getting their voicemails over Wifi. It's easy to encrypt data that is transmitted over the internet. There are a number of possible reasons they don't support Wifi. It might just be too much work. Maybe they haven't had time yet. It might be cost prohibitive. Perhaps there is a technical restriction - they would need to read the SIM's IMSI into the app, which Android might not allow. Whatever the case, it's not a security issue.

VVM has a separate notification icon. Every time you get a new voicemail, you get the standard voicemail icon. In addition, you get a new VVM icon. For now, this is fine. If I have Wifi enabled, I still get notified of a new voicemail (via the standard voicemail icon). When the Wifi issue is fixed, however, I would like to see the new icon go away. The notification bar is crowded enough.

VMM uses the wrong audio stream. VVM uses the "media" audio stream. Many people complain that prevents you from using a bluetooth headset to listen to your VM. I don't have a bluetooth headset, so I can't confirm this. It should use the "phone" audio stream.

The UI needs polish. There are some small look-and-feel issues:

  1. The VVM status bar icon doesn't match the Android UI Guidelines.
  2. After pressing the "Synchronize Voicemails" button, there is no feedback. No spinner, no progress bar, nothing.
  3. The long-press context menu on a VM does not include a "delete" option (only Open, Reply As, and Copy To)
  4. The buttons that appear when you press the "Menu" button have no icons.
  5. The "Copy to" screen is a little too technical. The file name defaults to vmn (i.e. vm0, vm1, vm2). It should instead default to something like "Voicemail from John Smith on 22 Jul, 2009". In addition, the save directory defaults to "/sdcard". Should users really be exposed to UNIX pathnames? Clicking the Save in Directory dropdown presents me with a file browser for my SD card. For me, this lists locations like ".Trashes" (I use a Mac), espeak-data (the data files for the Text-To-Speech engine), "where" (the data for Where), and other places that I probably shouldn't be saving random files. Do I really need to be able to specify the location to save the voicemail? Why not just save everything to /sdcard/voicemails? Or at least, why not assume that all voicemails get saved to /sdcard/voicemails or a subdirectory (i.e. you can't save a voicemail outside this directory, only inside)?

Initial, first-run experience is lousy. When I first installed and ran the app, it wasn't able to connect to the server. After disabling Wifi, it worked. I was taken to a set-up screen, but then got distracted by something and hit the back button. When I relaunched the application, the set-up screen wasn't presented. This worried me (is there some setup that needed to occur), so I uninstalled the app and re-installed it. I don't think I did any harm, but the app didn't behave as I expected, so I didn't know what to think.

Deleting doesn't always work. I'm going to chalk this up to glitch behavior. The first time I used the app, I went through and deleted some old messages. Then I went into the analog voicemail system, and they were back! I deleted them a second time, and now they're really gone. shrug

Now, I don't mind all of those problems. I'm glad that T-Mobile finally released a VVM app. I'm glad that they released it early, warts and all. I hope that they are not done working on it. For me, the Wifi issue is huge. I'm connected to Wifi 90% of the time, and that means that the VVM app doesn't function as a voicemail app 90% of the time. I suspect many other people are in the same boat as me. Furthermore, Google Voice is coming. If the Wifi issue isn't fixed by the time GV is generally available, I might just jump ship, and T-Mobile doesn't want me to do that. I understand if T-Mobile can't fix this on their own - they might need support from Google. Still, every carrier is going to want to provide VVM, and it would behoove Google to provide whatever support necessary.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Been trying to get the dang thing to work for two days, never considered because I was using Wifi (recently got my replacement handset to fix wifi that had died... explains why I hadn't had the problem before)

Good notes.