Dave Cronin complains that when he misses a call and gets voicemail as a result, the iPhone forces him to click both Recents and Voicemail to clear badges.
I agree with his complaint, but I don't like his proposed solution of making call history and voicemail a single list. I worry that with his design, leaving voicemails for an iPhone user would become a crapshoot, similar to emailing many people.
The reason email works poorly for many people is that it encourages them to mix reference information with to-do-reminders. A reminder mixed with a large amount of reference information is as good as forgotten. Good default workflow is especially important for voicemail, given its status as the last bastion of sanity in many lives:
I have never heard anybody say, “I get too many messages on my answering machine. I get too many voicemails.” What’s the difference? There’s no difference. [Just like with email], you get stuff that’s just reference stuff, that’s just trash, and stuff you need to act on.
What people don’t do is leave it there, undecided. But they do about e-mail. They also do it by paper. That’s why most people are highly voice-addicted, and most cultures are voice-addicted. That’s why interruptitis is so huge out there, because if you have something you consider timely and meaningful that somebody needs to know and hear, you’ve got to deliver it to them by some sort of auditory means, because that’s the only thing they’re processing.
Well, I just go, “Duh! Somebody give me the rationale for this.” And there is none. E-mail wouldn’t be a problem if it blew up like your answering machine did once you got more than a screen full.
The iPhone Recents list is primarily reference information. In particular, it provides shortcuts for calling people you have talked with recently. Mixing voicemail with Recents would force you to mix reference and reminders, because unlike with email, you have no other good place to put the reference information.
How could Apple address Cronin's complaint without leading iPhone voicemail users into the same trap that email leads people into? I think the solution is to divide the list not by kind (calls vs voicemails) but by purpose (needs-processing vs reference). An "In" list would show both voicemails and missed calls, and encourage you to keep it empty. The "Recents" list would serve only as reference; you would never feel compelled to go there to change something.
One challenge with my design is to ensure that removing missed calls from "In" feels more natural than ignoring them. Otherwise, users will fall into the email-like trap, just like I fear they would with Cronin's design. I suspect it would be best if it feels like moving the missed calls to Recents, rather than deleting them. A "Clear Missed" button button might also help.