Does free mobile messaging mean goodbye SMS?

Receiving your very first SMS – at the time it seemed such a marvel of modern technology. These days it’s something we take for granted as ever more advanced features are released for our daily use, but is the era of SMS over?

For the first time, free messaging apps have taken over the now dated SMS system many of us have been familiar with for over 15 years, helping to keep us all more connected.

A study from Informa has revealed the extent of this shift. According to the research firm almost 19 billion messages per day were sent on messaging apps, compared to 17.6bn SMS messages.

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the EU Commission, posted on Twitter: “It's official: chat apps have overtaken SMS globally.

“The cash cow is dying. Time for telcos to wake up and smell the data coffee.”

Apps which offer free messaging over your data connection is not something new. This author has used such services since his very first Symbian phone (perhaps even Palm PDA!) but recently it’s become the standard for not just frontline geeks, but the general consumer.

Nearly everyone has smartphones these days, in fact for the first time they’re outselling “dumbphones”. It’s not just third party apps such as ‘WhatsApp’ which users are switching to in flocks; but built-in services like Apple’s “iMessage” which comes pre-installed on iPhones (of which occupy around a 36% market-share.)

The only platform ahead of Apple is the variety of manufacturers building phones on Google’s OS. Android is albeit confirmed to have a iMessage-esque rival by the name of ‘Babel’ arriving with its next major update ‘5.0’ or “Key Lime Pie”, slated for announcement at Google I/O next month.

So the two biggest platforms will have built-in, free SMS alternatives... where does this leave carriers? Already many network operators have switched their plans to offer “unlimited” texts, or an obscene number, like “5,000 texts included with this bundle”.

Carriers can survive without the money from texts; customers will still have to purchase bundles including data services to be eligible for these “free” services.

‘WhatsApp’ is a third party app, quite widespread and available cross-platform, but not everyone has it installed. iMessage is built-in, and used (when it works) by likely the majority of its market-share, but not available cross-platform (other than Apple’s own Mac line.) Google has the best chance with its upcoming solution, probable to be included in Android devices, and predictably available cross-platform as is the case with most of the company’s services.

Have you made the switch from traditional SMS to “free” messaging services? How do you think this new trend will affect carriers and consumers alike?

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