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Burner makes a smarter phone by integrating with Dropbox, Evernote, & Slack

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Remember when people still used their smartphone as a phone? (Yeah, it was a long time ago.) I always assumed that the reason no one bothers calling anymore is because the experience of using a phone kinda sucks — and wireless carriers have pretty much just relied on partnerships with hardware companies to drive innovation.

Burner, initially launched as a disposable phone number service, might be able to help in that department with a new set of features aimed at making phone calls more useful.

Holding onto a phone number for a long time can make life easier for anyone who wants to call you. I learned my grandfather’s phone number as a child, and by now typing in those 10 digits has been ingrained in my muscle memory. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to reach him if that number ever changed. But sometimes people don’t want to have just one phone number for too long — or they want an easy way to gain more control over their incoming calls or texts.

Burner has addressed that first problem since it first debuted its disposable phone app, which allows people to use temporary phone numbers that can be “burned” after they’ve served their purpose. Now, the company is announcing integrations with a bunch of services — including Slack, Evernote, Dropbox, and SoundCloud — to give its customers what it calls a “personal operating system.” (Yeah, I know, but at least they didn’t call it a “geniusphone” or something.)

The disposable phone numbers will be easier to use with a new “premium” option, which also offers unlimited calls, texts, and picture messages for $4.99 a month. Burner users accustomed to the app’s existing monetization model, which relies on something called “credits” isn’t fully explained on the page you’re suppose to purchase them, can still use the app that way. The idea behind the new premium option is to give people a long-term number they can use in addition to their “real” phone number.
The integrations with other services are a little more interesting. The connections to Dropbox and SoundCloud are meant to archive content for later. Both can save voicemails sent to a Burner number for later, and Dropbox can also automatically save any images sent to the numbers. The connections to Evernote and Slack, however, are supposed to make it easier for professionals to respond to business-related text messages sent to their virtual burner phones.

Evernote integration allows people to send canned responses to questions they receive a lot, like “What are your hours?” or “Will you guys cash checks?” The integration with Slack, on the other hand, automatically forwards voicemails and text messages to a dedicated channel within the business communications tool. This is supposed to make it easier for an entire team to respond to people, instead of requiring one poor soul to handle all incoming questions or concerns.

I suspect many Burner customers will use the Dropbox and Evernote functions the most. Those are private by default, and sending canned responses to text messages is something everyone can appreciate, regardless of whether or not they’re using the service professionally. (How many times have you fielded texts from relatives asking for directions to your house or a meeting place? Exactly.) But the other options, in conjunction with new premium lines, show that Burner is thinking about helping workers separate their personal and professional lives on a single device.

That’s a problem I’m all too familiar with. I used to give out my personal phone number to anyone who wanted to talk on the phone, partly because I always had my cellphone on me and partly because at that time I didn’t have another phone. That proved to be a mistake. There are only so many calls you can field from PR people who won’t take the hint, or text messages you can receive in the middle of the night because someone doesn’t care about the vast difference in timezones.

So lately, I’ve been insisting that all calls are either done via Skype (which I’m not signed into most of the time) or Flyp, a service that works a lot like Burner. I won’t say that’s the best decision I’ve ever made — my wife probably wouldn’t appreciate that — but it’s pretty far up there. Now instead of never being able to escape my professional life, I can clearly segregate the two by using a disposable number. Mine could be a fringe case, but I think that many people can relate.

Now I’ll have to give Burner a try. Not because I’m interested in the “personal operating system” malarkey, or in archiving voicemails to SoundCloud. (I turn voicemails off every phone I use, or refuse to check those tied to apps like this.) But because I know all too well how frustrating it can be not to have a disposable number connected to my phone, and $4.99 a month is a pittance compared to the sanity-saving benefits I can reap from using such an important (to me) tool.

As for my grandfather? Well, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about him signing up for Burner any time soon. That number’s going to remain in use for a while.

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