Slydial Users Pass 1 Million Messages; We Test New Slydial iPhone App, Which Isn’t Always So Sly

11/19/08Follow @wroush

Back in July I wrote two somewhat skeptical stories about Slydial, the free service that lets you leave voicemail messages for cell-phone users without causing their phones to ring. My problem wasn’t with the technology itself, but with the misanthropic way that MobileSphere, the Boston company that created Slydial, was marketing it. They were promoting it as the perfect solution for those times when you have to call someone, but you don’t really want to talk with them. In the company’s own words: “Slydial provides the illusion of communication without the hassle of engaging in a time-consuming conversation.”

Well, it turns out that a lot of people are misanthropes. Either that, or Slydial has stumbled upon an unexpectedly useful new variation on the old technology of telephony. Since Slydial’s July launch, users have sent just over a million Slydial messages via its free, ad-supported service at 1-267-SLY-DIAL, the company announced Monday. That growth has come exclusively through word of mouth and public relations: the company hasn’t spent a dime on advertising, according to Gavin Macomber, MobileSphere’s executive vice president for marketing and business development.

The company believes that it’s hit a nerve with the service. “Just based on the response from our customers in the last three months, we think voice messaging is going to be huge,” Macomber told me this morning. “When we spoke back in July, there was a lot of ‘Hey, this is a great way to break up with your girlfriend’ going around, and sure, the name of the service is Slydial. But it’s also become a really practical and efficient way to communicate with somebody.” For example, many users have told MobileSphere that they turn to Slydial in situations where it would be difficult or dangerous to send a text message, such as when they’re driving, Macomber says.

Slydial iPhone AppTo make sending “sly” messages even easier, MobileSphere also announced this week that it has created three dedicated Slydial applications—one each for the Apple iPhone, RIM’s Blackberry line, and Windows Mobile phones. The applications let users initiate Slydial calls just by clicking on a name in their phones’ built-in contact lists—so they don’t have to remember the recipient’s phone number.

“All of those first one million calls were made by people using the 267-SLY-DIAL number, then, at the prompts, manually entering the recipients’ mobile number,” says Macomber. “But at the end of the day, it’s a slightly cumbersome process. That’s what the mobile apps are meant to address. If you’re a Windows Mobile, iPhone, or Blackberry user you can go into your address book in one simple step and voice-message somebody.”

You can download the Windows Mobile and Blackberry versions of the software after signing up for a “MySlydial” account here. The Slydial iPhone app isn’t available from the iTunes App Store yet (which is a saga unto itself—see below), but I was able to get the app directly from MobileSphere and test it out. It works exactly as advertised. I was able to use the app to leave messages for several people in my iPhone’s address book.

But as with the regular Slydial service, you still have to listen to a 10-second audio advertisement before your call is put through. And the system isn’t foolproof: if you really don’t want to interrupt someone, or if you don’t want them to know that you called until they notice that they have gotten voicemail, you should be aware that calling someone via Slydial sometimes causes their phone to ring once, depending on which cellular network they use.

Every time I used the iPhone Slydial app to call Rebecca’s T-mobile phone, for example, her phone rang briefly—too quickly for her to answer it, but giving me away nonetheless. [Editor's note: Dude, knock it off!] But when I called Bob’s Verizon phone, my call went directly to his voicemail, without making his phone ring.

Those differences result from the fact that the major wireless operators all use different voicemail technologies. (Even within networks, systems vary from region to region. That’s why a Verizon subscriber in Boston can forward a voice-mail message to another Verizon user in Boston, but not to a Verizon user in New York.) But these incompatibilities are exactly what … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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