The text message is 20 years old, and the landscape for communication is continuing to change. What does the future bode for the aging tool?
Last week the text message celebrated its 20th birthday. Since 1992, it’s grown into an essential part of our everyday lives. How long it will last is the big question. Recent news from Chetan Sharma says that the service, while still 70 billion messages a month strong, saw a serious decline in the last few months, likely due to new services like Facebook Messenger and Apple’s iMessage. So the question is posed: What is the future of the text message? Does it lie with SMS or Internet messaging programs?
Some believe that the SMS text isn’t going anywhere. Bill Tancer of Experian Marketing Services is one of them. As far as he’s concerned, the text message is the gold standard and we’re in no hurry to abandon it. Tancer told us that recent research shows that the future of our market relies heavily on the young, and that they haven’t stopped text messaging, but they are using a number of new services. Apple’s iMessage service, Google Talk, Kik, and Facebook Messenger are all major options for mobile communication just like the text message. They’ve all made some inroads against traditional texting, but they remain stuck against an important element: ubiquity. Texting is available on every phone, by every wireless carrier made, by every phone manufacturer, running every operating system. It’s everywhere
No service currently carries the same ubiquity as the text message, and that the ability to send messages to any phone number is still an unmatched feature compared to the text message’s closest competition.
“Users will always gravitate to a richer experience,” Tancer said, but “SMS is the backbone” of our mobile experience, and it won’t be going away until other services become much more relevant to the majority of mobile users.
Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, agrees. Just like the phone call, the text message is ubiquitous because of its relation to the phone number, and the two are still fundamental parts of the mobile experience. To compete, Alex states that new services and technology should be”optimizing around [text messaging],” and offer a niche experience that supplements it. The real future for messaging as a whole, he thinks, is about finding the right method for the right moment, and figuring out which tool in your mobile arsenal you want to use to send a message: a phone call, a YouMail voice message, an iMessage, or a text message.
Still, it’s hard to ignore services such as Apple’s iMessage, which continues to grow rapidly. iMessage alone is sending an impressive 1 billion text messages a month among 140 million users – a noticeable dent on the 70 billion traditional text messages sent. A big reason behind this is probably the fact that iPhones are inclined to use iMessage over traditional text messaging when communicating with other iPhones, iPads, and iMacs, and Apple’s gradual movement to encourage users of their new service is going to exponential increase the prevalence of the software in the coming year, especially when it looks just like a regular text message on the iPhone.
Kik thinks it can defeat the text message and all competitors by simply being better. “Kik adds value that SMS and competitors do not,” a representative said in an e-mailed statement. The features that Kik offers including read receipts, comprehensive group messaging, and HTML5-based Kik Card technology. According to Kik’s site, Kik Cards “let you do even more with Kik” like ”search for and send YouTube videos, find and share images, and create sketches.”
With more 30 million registered users and an impressive 100,000 new ones joining every day, it’s hard to ignore the momentum that Kik has. It, along with iMessage and Facebook Message all have increasing relevance in day to day communication. Despite this though, Experian’s data strongly suggests that instead of replacing SMS texting, we’re all just using texts along with a bunch of new alternatives. Why choose when you can have them all?
Despite all that iMessage, Kik, Facebook, and YouMail offer, the text message leaves its 20th birthday with a healthy chance it could hit a ripe old age. Its growth may not be what it used to, but as we all weave and bob through each new texting competitor that comes and goes, we always know that we can come back to SMS. You’re 20, text message. Walk tall.