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SMS is dead! Long live the text message!

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It seems every few months a new report or article is published proclaiming that text messaging (SMS) is dead. This is usually accompanied with a review or some blatant advertising for the latest and greatest Instant Messaging (IM) mobile application, iMessage being one of the more recent phenomena from 2011. I can say quite categorically that SMS is not only still breathing, it is truly alive and kicking, and is not going to expire anytime soon.

It is true to say that text messaging is seeing a slow and gradual decline, and there are a number of reasons as to why this may be the case:

  • Some mobile plans do still have restrictions on the number of texts you can send without there being an additional charge. Indeed, some tariffs contain no inclusive text messages meaning that each one you send has a cost associated with it. Where there exists alternatives, they are being used.
  • Broadcast text messages to friends have largely been replaced with more suitable technologies such as Facebook status updates. With the market share of smartphones ever increasing, more and more consumers have access to Facebook as an alternative to SMS and more often than not it is free to use as part of an inclusive data plan.
  • Instant Messaging (IM) applications are on the rise, and again make use of inclusive data plans, meaning you can have a conversation with your friends and not worry about running out of texts or being charged for them. A conversation via IM uses relatively little data unless you start using some of the more feature rich options such as sharing pictures, videos or audio.

All three of the above will be contributing to consumers using alternate technologies whereas historically they would have relied upon SMS. Despite all of this though, SMS is and will remain the king of messaging and here is why:

  • SMS is ubiquitous and platform independent. Of the billions of mobile phones in circulation across the planet, they are all capable of sending and receiving SMS messages. You can be fairly certain that you can reach any mobile user via a text message. There is no other mobile messaging technology that can even come close to guaranteeing this. It is its very simplicity that drives its popularity.
  • SMS does not require a data plan. Despite being a form of data communication, SMS does not require a data plan, or access to a data network in order to get through. If you have enough reception to make or receive a call, then you have enough reception to send or receive a text message.
  • Instant Messaging is often dependent upon having the correct app installed and frequently such apps are not available on all smartphones. With no IM standard, each application makes use of its own protocols and there is no automatic interoperability between such apps unless the developers have put the extra work into understanding how the competition works and have written supporting code. The more popular apps simply do not do this such as iMessage (restricted to Apple devices) and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) restricted to RIM’s BlackBerry devices. There are numerous apps that work across multiple platforms such as Whats App, but that only helps if the people you wish to talk to also have Whats App installed as opposed to say Kik or Crunch SMS.
  • Near enough everyone will open and read every text message they receive (statistics show 98% open rates within 15 minutes of receipt). Marketers know this and for them it is a powerful way of getting their message into your hands. They do not need to know what mobile you have or what apps you have installed to get that message to you.

This is just a small selection of the many reasons as to why SMS is not going to disappear anytime soon, yet despite this, every new IM app will boldly proclaim that they will be the cause of a new era in mobile telephony.

So long live SMS we say! We’d love to hear your views on this and what your IM platform of choice is. What do you think is needed to bring about the demise of SMS, if at all?

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7 thoughts on “SMS is dead! Long live the text message!”

  1. I don’t think SMS will ever die! Although there is some considerable competition by the many applications, one thing to remember is that they are all web/internet based. For someone to get a message, they need have to be subscribed to 2G/3G or even 4G! But for SMS, it comes with the minimum subscription. So, I completely agree with this brilliantly written post that SMS is here to stay. I have even just started to run a business SMS campaign for my restaurant business locally and the response has been amazing.

    Thought I’d share, thanks for the great post.

  2. Phillip – I very much agree. I think we also cannot underestimate the ‘dead letter’ effect of a text. A text can still be the meessage of choice when you don’t want to interrupt, don’t want an immediate open conversation, or just want to be unobtrusive. Facebook seemed to have misunderstood this aspect of customer usage when they combined their IM function with their mail function. People want to use different functionality in different ways.

  3. A text message will normally get read and responded to before an email. Emails can get blocked and with the sheer volume people get, your’s as such won’t stand out. It’s just another message in the in box.

  4. SMS is most certainly dead, simply because it’s impossible to send SMS messages to PC’s easily, or to EVERY or any phone or other device around the planet. The biggest frustration 15 years ago in Japan was that people on different networks couldn’t send sms text messages to each other. They had to use email. Even now, I can’t sms my friends and family around the world, making the technology null and void.

    Just to put it in perspective, have any of the contents here been sent (easily) via SMS?

    Didn’t think so.

    SMS is DEAD.


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