How Three Apps Are Reviving the Power of Audio Messaging

This was the part of the "Startup Stories" series on ThinkApps.

Phones used to be all audio — no screens or Internet. Just voice and sound. But obviously, we’ve come a long way since then. 

Jeff Baxter and Thomas Gayno were working for five years in Google’s Creative Lab and together they had a hand in a lot of how we use our post-landline gadgets. They worked on brand, product, and marketing for everything from YouTube and Maps to Drive and the Nexus.

While working at Google, though, a lot of their focus veered to wearables and they noticed that, for these small screens on our wrists, we’re going to rely heavily on our voices again. There’s going to be an audio revival in tech — at least that’s Baxter and Gayno’s hypothesis.

Gayno said, “Thanks to products like Vine or Instagram, people share a massive amount of videos and photos over social networks like Twitter. Oddly, audio was left behind.”

And with that, Baxter said you’re losing a lot of the nuance and emotion that comes with communicating with our voices. So a year ago, they left Google to create one new project each quarter, “with the goal to reimagine how we use voice to communicate on phones today, but [more specifically] on things like watches, glasses, and in your car.”

Onboarding Users

In the US and the UK, voice messaging is still sort of a novel concept, but that’s not the case in places like Asia and South America. Gayno says that a lot of this has to do with cultural norms. For example, in China, the characters on their keyboard make typing really inconvenient so you’ll see many more people on the street talking into their phones rather than just typing.

So what’s keeping most Americans from picking up on the audio messaging trend? “You have to change users’ behavior to get used to using [their] voice,” Baxter explained.

One thing that’s bringing more Americans around to using voice messaging is our car time. We spend more time driving than in most countries and voice messaging is a much safer, less hands-on way to communicate while on the road. It’s also much faster for most of us to talk than it is to type, and there’s no need to abbreviate or try to find a quirky emoji to express our emotions.

“It’s a fascinating window into the voices of the world.”

There is something far less practical about that moment when it really clicks and a person becomes sold on audio messaging. For Baxter and Gayno that moment didn’t come until after they’d built the prototype for Cord.

At the time, the only people on the app were their wives and friends. They were leaving a meeting late and Baxter was sending his wife a simple voice message saying, “Hey, we were late at the meeting. I’ll be home in like ten minutes. Love you.”Gayno laughed because Baxter said “I love you” at the end of his message which is something that most of us wouldn’t have included in a text. “I’m now saying ‘I love you’ more in my mundane, everyday messages,” Baxter said.

Whether people use it on the road, as a more personal alternative to text or just as a time-efficient option, Gayno said that Americas are very loyal to the product. “I think people who give it enough of a try eventually have that kind of click and then they’re hooked,” said Baxter.