YouMail Lets Users Permanently Block Calls on Android

YouMail, an Irvine CA-based startup founded in 2007 that focuses on delivering value-add services to smartphone users, is debuting a new feature today in its Android applications. It’s one that users will likely flock to: with the press of a button, smartphone owners can now completely block unwanted callers permanently, and even have an outgoing message inform them that their number is out of service entirely.

The feature, which YouMail is branding as a “Ditch” button, is now available in the company’s Visual Voicemail Plus and WhoAreYou apps, and should also rollout eventually to the company’s iOS app, company CEO Alex Quilici told BetaKit in an interview. The Ditch button won’t be able to prevent iOS devices from even ringing to begin with when blocked callers attempt to call in, which is something the company’s Android WhoAreYou Caller ID app can provide thanks to deeper system-level integration.

Quilici said that the feature is in response to requests from users who were tired of receiving unsolicited calls not only from nuisance callers like telemarketers and debt collectors, but also from businesses not covered under U.S. and Canadian Do Not Call list regulations – namely from callers customers have a pre-existing relationship with.

“People do get calls they don’t want, some are from spammers, some are from people who ignore the Do Not Call lists, but a whole lot of them are from people you have relationships with,” Quilici said. “For example if you’re a customer of Bank of America, they’ll call you and try to sell you a car loan, or a home loan or whatever else. Even though you’re on the Do Not Call list, they have a relationship with you so they’re free to call you.”

Quilici believes YouMail’s implementation is better than alternatives like Mr. Number, because in most cases, it will actually prevent callers from trying again, since when they encounter the standard “line is no longer in service” greeting, they often remove people from their lists entirely.

The Ditch function may seem like a relatively small feature, but it shows that YouMail is rolling out features to users around basic phone features that may not be as sexy in an age of cutting edge, data-driven smartphones, but that users still actually depend heavily on. “What we’re actually trying to do is rework a lot of the traditional telecom services, like voicemail, caller ID, etc.” Quilici said. “The idea is to make them much more useful to customers, and to keep innovating around areas that carriers tend not to be able to address or tend to roll out slowly.”

Improvements in those areas so far include visual voicemail and caller ID functions that provide crowd-sourced information about callers, so that users can see at a glance whether the person calling is a telemarketer or an individual they’d actually want to chat with. “Our goal is to take that enhanced services area in the telecom market and really rework that so that it’s exciting, as opposed to something that’s just been annoying in the past,” Quilici offered by way of summing up the company’s larger goals.

It seems to be a business model that’s working well with users. The company reported that one billion calls had crossed paths with its apps back in July of 2011, connecting to a user base of over two million users. Ultimately, that strategy is also helping YouMail sell its services to carriers directly. Quilici said that it already has relationships with some smaller carriers, including Viaero Wireless in Colorado, which is putting YouMail on every handset it sells by default. YouMail did have an incident where it seemed like T-Mobile had directly caused it to be pulled from the Android Market (now Google Play), but T-Mobile backtracked and YouMail managed to rouse considerable pushback from media and users.

Eventually, YouMail could act as a value-added services layer for bigger mobile companies, too, to help carriers selling the same Android devices from various OEM differentiate their services, and a single button that automatically and permanently blocks callers is definitely a standout service.

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