Connected Objects
OrbMi uses a voice messaging app to reinvent the answering machine

As smartphones have continued to eat into the sales of landlines, voice mail has become the main way that voice messages are retrieved from phones. But once upon a time, the answering machine was a physical device, one that used cassettes just as the tape-based Walkman laid the foundation for the flash memory-based iPod nano.

The team behind OrbMi wants to recreate the experience of listening to voice messages that arrive without remote notification on one’s own schedule with a glowing half-sphere. Like the answering machines of yore, it must be plugged in. But unlike those devices, it doesn’t have to be anywhere near a phone or phone line. That’s because messages are sent to the Wi-Fi device over the Internet using a companion app.

Voice messages senders can specify a color for the orb to glow once the messages are received; the recipient taps the surface to hear it played back. Retropreneur Labs seeks $75,000 in its Kickstarter campaign to develop the OrbMi by September 28th. An Orb costs $85 (with a $65 early bird) and is slated to ship in May 2016.

OrbMi banks heavily on the idea that people don’t want to be interrupted by notifications for incoming voice messages  That’s a valid concern, but not necessarily one that requires a dedicated device as virtually every smartphone has a Do Not Disturb feature or the ability to turn off notifications for particular apps. And while there’s something to be said for the joy of coming home to find an anticipated message waiting, most voice mail systems adopted a way to call in for messages many years ago because of consumer demand. OrbMi doesn’t seem to have that feature although it doesn’t seem like something that would be technically difficult.

Also, while Orb messages could include the kind of thoughtful reflection enabled via a longer email or even postal letter, there may also be times that these same loved ones might need to contact the Orb user about a more pressing matter. It seems odd that close contacts would use one voice messaging app for low-priority items and another app — or simply a phone call — for higher priority ones.

Arthur Tufeau is a contributor to Backerjack.

  • Thank you so much for taking the time to share our project. I wanted to add a bit more detail because the idea of non-urgent, location specific voice shares represents a fundamental shift in how we look at our communication options. It’s a bit “weird” and we get that.

    It’s not a way to primarily avoid interruptions or notifications. The primary premise is we already have an odd relationship with voice on our phones. 40-70% (depending on demographic) have no land line, so the only way to reach us is on the mobile device. Many of us find voice inconvenient on our smartphone and have even deactivated VM or just never check them. If we have a voice app installed, it’s more for “voice texts”…short voice memos of a few seconds, like “I’m on my way will see you there at 7”, but not really longer “voice shares”.

    When we know our contact is likely busy (different time zone, work, school, asleep, etc) and our only option is to reach them on the mobile device, our premise is we do one of two things 1- We avoid communicating…and decide we will reach out at another time. Or 2- We send a “downgraded” message like a text. This might be fine for many of our contacts or messaging needs, but what about your closest 2 or 10 contacts…the people you should be communicating with better?

    Also, we already split our channels for communication. If it’s urgent we call or miss call or text “call me”. If its not urgent…we SMS or use a messaging app. But what we have lost with this is a more meaningful voice share option. So, since we tend to avoid longer voice because it goes to the phone, we wanted to see if removing voice from the phone could improve meaningful voice shares.

    A mother could Orb her daughters dorm-room at any time with a 2min share instead of opting for a 2 line text or email. You could be across the country on business and share an update with each kid in their own room when you might not easily be able to schedule a call with the whole family and get everyone to pass the phone around. You could send an Orb to your grandparents without worry if they are resting.

    So, its not specifically about avoiding interruptions….it’s more about giving your closest contacts a way to say they can reach you with voice at ANY time. A call is best, but our take is when you can’t have a call, an Orb message encourages a longer voice share, instead of nothing or a text or email.

    The core premise is despite there being apps for messaging or voice and various notification settings…we already change how we communicate when we want to reach someone without urgency. While it’s fine for the majority of our communication….we felt there is richer voice shares which are NOT taking place right now, because it goes to our phone, a place where voice is increasingly less than welcome.

    We are banking on the idea that we don’t dislike voice shares, at least not from our closest loved ones and special contacts….and if we could provide a way which is convenient to send and convenient to receive without any expectation of immediate delivery or response we might help open ourselves back up to the idea of voice…the way we use to communicate….that is our hope anyway.

    PS- You are correct. We could easily allow remote listening of the message through the app. Right now, it’s left out, because we want to force that limitation to keep people open to this “new” way to communicate. Unlike the old voicemail…someone is not going to Orb you if it’s urgent or if it’s something that can’t wait. We don’t want people to feel like they have one more thing they need to check while out and mobile. We want everyone to just relax, share voice, and let people enjoy it whenever they are done with their day and back at their Orb.