Unified Communications, Converged Mobile Applications and Visual Voicemail"¦ Who really cares anyway?

Last summer, I wrote about the growing interest in Unified Communication Solutions and the implications for telecom providers. As a refresher, we think of Unified Communications (UC) as technology that offers users choices in how they manage communications from home phones, voicemail, video services, email, etc. Since last year, I have seen the likes of AT&T, Google and Comcast introduce and announce UC solutions that are simply posing as very cool apps for your mobile phone. Today these apps operate on your Smartphone and allow you to manage content across your home phone, voicemail, video service, email, SMS text and PC.

Comcast’s new converged mobile application for the iPhone and iPod Touch provides a great example of on-the-go converged mobile apps. This Comcast app will provide one-stop access to key features of Comcast Digital Voice, Digital Cable and high-speed Internet services. This includes giving customers the ability to read and compose emails from Comcast.net, listen to home voice mail from one mailbox, manage landline voicemail through a visual interface, forward home calls to the iPhone, check TV listings, watch on-demand movie trailers, synch all universal address book contacts to the iPhone and add pictures to their favorite contacts. Wow!

In addition, there are the tried and true niche players out there such as YouMail, CallWave, PhoneFusion and Grand Central (now Google Voice) who have gained prominence in the visual voicemail / voice to text space. These solutions allow you to instantly read transcripts of voicemails, screen calls and manage greetings by caller. Let’s not forget Apple’s MobileMe service that pushes new email, contacts, web bookmarks, and calendar events over the air to iPhone, Mac, and PC so that a user stays in perfect sync.

So there are several solutions out there with the ability to manage your calls, messages, text and emails so that you can be found (or not"¦), but does the average consumer really crave this ability to unify communication and content from their mobile phone? Or are they simply seeking the next great killer app like the rest of us? I decided to take a look at the "tale of the tape" for a perspective on the consumer demand associated with a few of these most popular UC offerings.

The following chart illustrates the monthly engagement trends of consumers who have researched UC providers and the Smartphones we cherish.

  • Engagement at UC provider sites grew significantly over the last year, trending upward with the launch of new Smartphones and App stores. This indicates that as consumers adopt more sophisticated handsets, they will also seek the added functionality that wireless applications and content provide.
  • Smartphone engagement increased as new handsets were released in the marketplace during late 2008 and mid 2009
  • The takeaway here is that UC providers grew engagement steadliy after the launch of the iPhone App store in mid ’08 and continued on a steady climb as RIM (Blackberry) and Palm launched responses to the iPhone and the Apple App store.

It should be no surprise that Apple, RIM and Palm spark interest in the mobile space whenever they launch a new handset. What is interesting to see is the degree to which unified communication solutions also engage and maintain engagement well after the new handsets are launched.

We will continue to monitor the evolution of UC solutions and converged mobile applications from carriers, cable providers, telecommunications providers, OEM’s and content providers and their impact on consumer behavior. After all, we now know that people really do care"¦