Is voicemail on the way out?

Voice calls have been on the decline for years, as people increasingly rely on texting and instant messaging services. Now, numbers prepared by VoIP company Vonage indicate that voicemail -- once a revolution in the telephone business -- is slowly dying too.

Itsuo Inouye/AP
Figures from VoIP company Vonage, reported in USA Today, suggest that the venerable voicemail tool is on its way out as customers turn to messaging and texting. Here, a boy uses an iPhone at a booth in a Tokyo electronics store.

First there was texting. Then there was instant messaging. Now a phone company is confirming what many of us suspected: slowly but surely, the notion of leaving a voice message on someone else's phone has become, well, a little quaint.

Internet telephony company Vonage reported this week, in figures prepared for USA Today, that more people than ever are ditching the venerable voicemail approach. The company reports that the number of voice-mail messages for Vonage users was down 8 percent this July compared to the previous July, and that the number of voicemail message actually retrieved fell by 14 percent over the same period. Granted, that's only data from one company -- and Vonage users may not be a representative sample of the population -- but it's hard not to conclude from these numbers that voicemail is on its way out.

USA Today speculates that cumbersome voicemail prompts themselves account for at least part of the problem. "They hate the whole voice-mail introduction, prompts, having to listen to them in chronological order," Vonage executive Michael Tempora told the newspaper. Certainly, anyone who's had to suffer through a long set of instructions on how to leave a message ("Press 1, or just wait for the tone," as though we haven't all been successfully leaving messages for years) can empathize.

But voicemail's decline might also be reflective of another trend: voice calls themselves are slowly diminishing, and have been ever since 2007. AT&T and Verizon responded to the trend earlier this year by offering updated pricing schemes, which give customers unlimited voice calling but charge more for mobile data usage. In other words, the phone companies are finding better ways to monetize the parts of people's phone plans that are actually being used: text and data.

Of course, most people still use voicemail from time to time, and it's still a generally handy service even if overall usage is declining. Fortunately, there are several nifty tools out there that make navigating voicemails a quicker experience. Google Voice numbers include the ability to transcribe voicemails into texts or emails. Vonage offers a similar service. Apple's iPhones have a "Visual Voicemail" feature that displays messages chronologically and lets users listen to them in any order.

Readers, how about you? Do you still leave spoken messages for your friends, or have texts and instant messages replaced voicemail on your phone? Let us know in the comments section below.

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