Before learning of this product, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that texting, something many people take for granted, is not universally available. Dial2Text doesn’t solve that completely but it does open the door to one previously ignored segment: rotary phone users. In 2006 it was estimated that as many as 14% of all phones in the US were rotary. The percentage has no doubt dropped but the folks behind Dial2Text believe the number is still significant. Dial2Text is being rolled out in the Cincinnati area beginning this month and, if all goes well, could be available nationwide by year’s end.
Dial2Text is marketed as a service much like cell phone texting. In fact, proposed rate plans are identical to those available to cell phone users: $0.20/message or $4.99/month for 500 messages. An unlimited plan could be added but Cincinnati Bell feels it is unlikely that many users will have the stamina to go above 500 messages per month.
No phone modifications or attachments are required meaning that, once a line is authorized for Dial2Text, all devices on that line can use it. Doing that may take a little practice, however. Most characters require two inputs. Exceptions are ’0′ and ’1′. Dial either of those numbers and you’re done. For any of the other eight, you need to dial a second digit to indicate which of four possible characters (the original number or one of three letters) is desired. For example, the sequence 3-1-4-1 would send my initials. The ’3′ indicates the finger hole with the number ’3′ and the letters ‘DEF’. The ’1′ indicates the first of those letters, ‘D’. A ’0′ (zero) would indicate the originally dialed number, ’3′, and the numbers ’2′ and ’3′ would indicate the letters ‘E’ and ‘F’ respectively. Similarly, the number ’4′ selects the ’4GHI’ finger hole and the number ’1′ indicates the letter ‘G’. The address of this website can be communicated with the sequence 3-1-3-2-6-2-6-2-9-3-4-1-4-3-2-2-7-3-6-3-6-2-2-3-6-3-6-1 although a dot must be manually inserted in front of ‘com’.
As you can see, it’s all very simple. Even so, it will undoubted take some concentration and there could be errors. Something like forgetting to dial that second digit or having your finger slip from the hole before you’ve made it all the way to the little hooky thing could seriously alter the message. The developers claim that this will simply provide Dial2Text users with some of the same fun and humor that auto-correct provides to cell phone users. In fact, anticipating something along the lines of DamnYouAutoCorrect, they have locked up the DamnYouSlippyFinger.com domain name for the next five years.
Developers similarly downplay the lack of lowercase letters and punctuation. Citing studies of random samples of real text messages that show senders rarely have any concept of either, they say the Dial2Text limitations are actually a boon. The typical rotary phone user might be inclined to use proper capitalization and punctuation and even correct spelling. As one Cincinnati Bell spokesman said, “That would make them stand out like a sore index finger”.
Receiving Dial2Text messages couldn’t be easier. Using the latest text to speech technology, Dial2Text simply calls the user and reads messages aloud. There is no queuing for multiple messages but, after announcing that a text message has been received, Dial2Text pauses for thirty seconds to allow the user to get pencil and paper. Users with answering machines who screen calls can get the messages recorded onto cassette tapes or other media by simply not picking up the receiver.
One member of the local Beta test group who used the answering machine trick is Joe Kerr. Joe really likes actually hearing from his grandchildren now and then. “They never call or visit”, he said, “but they will send a text message.” He smiled as he played back a recent message from a grandson in response to a birthday card. The message can be heard here. Joe admits he doesn’t understand even the tiniest part of the message but says it’s the thought that counts. He also shared a message from a long time friend alerting him to something on TV. That message is here. The heads-up would have been appreciated even more if the show hadn’t been over before the friend finished composing the message. “He’ll get better”, Joe says.
But, like many high tech breakthroughs, Dial2Text fails to impress everyone. Zachery Quinn, another Beta tester, wants nothing more to do with it. “Those greedy bleeping bleepers want twenty cents to send a message I can’t even sign with my initials? Bleep ‘em.”