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.