9 November 2011

SMS is Under ‘Smart’ Pressure.

by Webb

SMS is one of the oldest mobile technologies; it’s been around for over a decade and is still actively used to this date. In fact, it has changed the whole gamut of communication. However, all of a sudden, text messaging has come under serious threat from newer technology because of the explosive popularity of smartphones and apps. There is every chance that text messaging as we know it will change a great deal in the next few years. The ‘old way’ of texting still has some very strong advantages; for instance, it enables cross-platform communication using a cell phone number and does not require usernames.  Most importantly, however, carriers still make a lot of money from text messaging, so they are not going to give up on it without a fight. Let’s review the latest shifts in the global text messaging space.

The first company to succeed in making a phone-specific messaging app was RIM with their BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), which BlackBerry owners use to communicate with other such users over the internet. The prevalence of other smartphones gave developers an opportunity to create similar apps on other platforms, resulting in numerous cross-platform apps like WhatsApp, which automatically finds people in your address book that already use it, so you can send them IM-style messages, pictures, videos, files and your location on the map. The cost of such apps is a fraction of what you pay for SMS – for $2 a year you get unlimited messaging; however, it is only with people who also use this service, not everyone, and that’s the only show-stopper.

SMS is also under pressure from social networks like Twitter and Facebook, both of which are found more and more often on phones and enable text-based communication with your friends. Facebook even went as far as releasing a standalone app named Messenger that is simply a dedicated app for Facebook Chat. Upon release of the app, it quickly climbed to the top of the free app charts on both platforms it was on, but left the charts soon after.

AppsWhile all those apps are proving to be extremely popular, they still have a long way to go to replace traditional text messaging. The biggest concern is fragmentation. As with instant messengers online, a person using BBM can’t send a message to someone using WhatsApp, which is a problem. So if you would like to use such apps as a primary means of text messaging, you will probably need all of them, as it could be tough convincing a person to switch to another platform once they are used to the one they started with. This way you may end up with a bunch of apps that you use for the same reason but need all of them because that’s the one the recipient is using. And when you get WhatsApp, Kik, Skype, KakaoTalk, Viber, etc, there will still be a need to use SMS from time to time because you won’t find every person you know on those networks.

Also, a lot of businesses rely on SMS for their marketing and it is not yet possible to do that with the messenger apps. Imagine a company asking if you have Kik installed and if they can message you there from time to time. Of course, businesses still prefer to know your mobile number, rather than a Skype handle, so they can send you their special offers via bulk SMS services.

Every sign leads to a world in which carriers, under pressure from free messaging apps and communication giants like Facebook and Skype Microsoft, will lower text message prices so that people keep using them, most likely bundling them with your calling plan at a cheaper price. This will fit perfectly with the future in which people pay not for texts sent and minutes talked, but for the amount of bandwidth they are actually using, which is more efficient and fair anyway. There are serious economic reasons for such a model to take place, and at this point the question is not if but when.

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