Whenever I've activated a fresh Windows install using the OEM key on a laptop or desktop, it has always required a phone call activation. I have to call a number, read off 42 digits to a computer and hope it understands me, and then it reads back a 42 digit confirmation ID. I've done this countless times and only spoken to a human once, so it seems this activation could usually happen online automatically. Thankfully as of today it appears Microsoft has (sort of) answered my plea.
I called to activate a Windows 7 install today and was greeted by a different voice than usual. This new voice told me I could activate through a web interface on my smartphone and that they would text me a link. I accepted the option, and seconds later I had a text from Microsoft with a bit.ly link to an activation server.
(Note, this link appears to be individually generated and tied to your phone number, otherwise I would share it and save folks the trouble of the initial call) It remains to be seen if I can continue using the same link in the future for additional activations. I was able to transfer the numbers much more rapidly through the web interface than I could through the phone prompts. Kudos to Microsoft trying to make this a little easier! It spit back the correct activation ID and I was on my way.