Companies that want constant employee E-mail access but can't afford the cost of PDAs, such as Research In Motion's BlackBerry or the Palm Treo, have a new alternative in MailCall, a service from startup Great American Technologies Inc. The hosted service translates a text E-mail into a computerized voice mail and sends it to any wireless or landline phone.
If MailCall's servers aren't able to translate a written word into a verbal one, the word is spelled out for the user. The service is designed to understand inflections and standard abbreviations. Users can choose to send either a standard prewritten reply or answer E-mails with a 25-second voice response that MailCall compacts into an attachment. The $15-per-person monthly service supports encryption and doesn't require any software or hardware purchases.
"If you buy a PDA or a BlackBerry today, it'll be obsolete in six months," says Vincent Sette, Great American Technologies' executive VP of business development. "If you buy our system, we can upgrade whenever because there's no hardware."
America Online and Yahoo Inc. also provide text-to-voice E-mail service, but MailCall's product is unique in its reply capabilities and lets people use their existing E-mail addresses, while those companies require subscribers use their E-mail addresses. For an extra fee, MailCall can also read Web sites and HTML attachments.
Meanwhile, the uncertain outcome of RIM's legal troubles over BlackBerry patents might make services such as MailCall an attractive alternative for those who need E-mail access while on the road.