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Just when you thought voicemail was dead, it gets animated. Literally.

If there’s one technology that’s outstayed its welcome into the second half of the twenty-tens (and please can someone come up with a fun nickname for this era), it’s voicemail. With the rise in popularity of texts and online messaging, tech and telco experts have been predicting its demise for years now, but so far it’s yet to disappear.

In June The New York Times reported the number of people leaving voicemails with one particular provider, Vonage, had dropped 8 per cent from October 2013 to April, while the number of users bothering to retrieve those messages plummeted 14 percent. More widely, research suggests that the next generation – children aged 12 to 17 – barely use their phones to make calls at all, preferring to text.

Given telcos make a nice bit of revenue from charging us mugs to call up their robots and retrieve our messages, it’s no surprise they’d be wanting to reverse this trend. And how do you do that? With bells and whistles, of course.

Thus: just as voicemail is about to kick the bucket, along comes “visual voicemail with avatars” to re-animate its dead corpse. Literally.

Introduced last month by US provider Sprint, the service allows customers to record and send animated messages with unique characters, backgrounds and voice effects.

The cartoon avatars, which include a talking dog, a sassy cat, a zebra and a viking lady, are lip-synched with the user’s audio message to turn any voicemail into a personalised cartoon on your mobile phone.

Here’s a video example. (I’ll admit it – it kind of makes me want to try voicemail again.)

The service comes with 12 free avatars, with others available for a fee, and at this stage is only available to US Sprint customers using select Android smartphones (take that, iPhone fanboys!), but messages can be sent to users of other phones and networks via the web. Messages can also be shared via email or posted to Facebook.

While I can’t imagine sending a professional communique via a talking blue cat, I can see myself hitting up friends with it for fun – sort of like Snapchat. And if anything is going to get that valuable youth market using voicemail again, this could well be it.

There’s no news on whether this technology will make it Down Under. Perhaps don’t hold your breath either: Optus customers are still waiting for regular visual voicemail.

In the meantime, if voicemail is indeed here to stay, can we at least get rid of the ridiculous command: “To end your call press hash or just hang up”?

It’s 2014. I think we all know how to hang up a phone by now.

About the author

A former web designer turned journalist, Petra has 10 years’ experience in digital media having worked as the online editor of South Australia’s Sunday Mail and as the national social media and technology reporter for News Corp Australia. As iPad editor for The Advertiser, she also oversaw the launch of the masthead’s first iPad app in 2010. Her work has been published in Elle Australia, Cosmopolitan, The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, Courier Mail, The Advertiser, Sunday Mail and The Vine.

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