Android M may support visual voicemail, but at the whim of individual carriers

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Android, unlike iOS and Windows Phone, has never supported visual voicemail natively — that functionality has instead been consigned to carrier apps, which have been a mixed bag historically. It looks like this will change with Android M, after a Google employee, responding to an Android Developer Preview support ticket, wrote that the “main M release” will ship with a unified interface for voicemail.

Android Police spotted a screenshot of the new UI in a post by Google+ user Danny Hollis. The card-based visual voicemail UI takes a cue from Google’s material design. Messages live in compact cards that expand when you tap. In extended form, they contain a seekbar for quickly jumping between segments of the voicemail, play and pause buttons for more granular control, a loudspeaker toggle, and an option to delete the message. A few buttons below — one to return the call, another to send an SMS message — suggest ways to follow up.

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But voice message support won’t be the be-all, end-all solution to Android’s voicemail woes. It seems that Google is beholden to carriers on the issue of visual voicemail — the aforementioned Google employee said only Orange in France and T-Mobile in the US will support it at first. And while Android M supports voicemail transcription, “none of the carriers [we’re] currently working with have it,” writes the Google employee.

It might be inferred that carriers which charge a monthly fee for visual voicemail, like Verizon, are hesitant to support functionality which might eat into their revenue stream. A free workaround for the carriers that opt not to jump onboard is Google Voice (which incidentally supports transcription, too), but that sort of misses the point; setting up Voice can be a lengthy and complicated process, one Android M’s new feature is almost certainly meant to lessen. Google may have laid the groundwork for visual voicemail, but it might do better to lobby harder with carriers. After it’s last disastrous show of defiance, you’d think it’d learn.

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