Friday, 10 February 2012

Will the 'Age of the Text Message' ever end?

Post migrated from previous blog. Written September 13th, 2011.


To be honest, I'm probably being too harsh. The SMS service has served me (and pretty much everyone else with a mobile phone since the early 90s) very well. It revolutionised the way we communicate remotely, and was so brilliantly simple that people everywhere were able to catch on pretty quickly.

That said, we're now 20 years on and the technology beneath this service has changed, improved, vastly. With smartphone owner statistics growing by the day, more and more people have a computer many times more powerful than a PC was when SMS was created, sitting in their pocket.

It's not just the hardware, either.

In recent years we've seen a boom in social media application usage - and, indeed, understanding. With most of the globe now connecting with each other via services such as Facebook and Twitter, people are truly beginning to understand what communication can be like on the web. Given the fact all these services are also available on our smartphones, will the SMS become redundant to a service such as one of these? Probably not... yet.

Reliability is king.

These services are not built as an "SMS replacement". With this in mind, I really feel that reliability is an issue. They can be slow in notification, and generally do not have the features allowing me to feel comfortable using them instead of a text (for one, I have no idea if the person I am messaging even has mobile access to the service).

Instead, I believe a service such as the newly released PingMe would stand a much better chance.

PingMe offers a lot that SMS doesn't. Whether we've just become blinded in what is lacking from the "service that has just always been there" or whether we truly find nothing wrong with SMS, I don't know. But what I do know is, when a service like PingMe crops up with media attachment capabilities, instant delivery and read reports, status updates and group chat - the weaknesses of SMS really glare.

This service was built to be a direct alternative to the text message. It runs in the background, uses your mobile number (automatically connecting you with other in your phonebook using it) and it alerts you when you have a message. Everything else on top of this is a bonus. If everyone else in my phonebook had it, would I have a use for SMS any longer? No.

So what exactly am I getting at?

Despite the fact that I would love it if everyone did subscribe to a service such as PingMe - it just won't happen. There is the obvious reason of "no smartphone" and the competition of services such as the likes of BBM and iMessage (both of which are native to their platforms and therefore obviously exclusive). There is also the fact that these services (excluding BBM) all use data transfer standards NOT in the form of GSM (mobile signal) - of which people have limited amounts, and problems receiving in some areas.

These reasons, though, are not why I think SMS will continue to live on, working further into what should be it's well-earned retirement. All of those problems will begin to see fixes long before the demise of SMS. The true reason is much more frustrating; that people simply will not want to change. SMS delivers the service they are used to. One that is very tried and very tested, one that works for them - however simplistic and featureless it may appear when lined up against the technology of today.

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