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Death Knell for Text Messaging? Think Again

Topic: Mobile Marketing | Author: Jeff Hasen | Date: June 10, 2011

sms communicationsIf you asked me to describe the current state of text messaging in two words, I would say it’s ubiquitous and much maligned.

During the same week that SMS officially turned 18, we read a provocative post suggesting that SMS may not be around to celebrate its 19th year thanks to Apple’s newly-introduced iMessage.

Scheduled to debut this fall, iMessage (available in iOS 5) brings the functionality of iPhone messaging to all iOS devices―iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Built into the Messages app, iMessage allows users to easily send text messages, photos, videos or contact information to a person or a group on other iOS 5 devices over Wi-Fi or 3G. In addition, iMessages are automatically pushed to all iOS 5 devices a consumer owns, making it easy to maintain one conversation across your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

Of course, instant messaging over a mobile device is not new. BlackBerry’s Messenger, which allows all Blackberry users to chat among themselves without middlemen or mobile operators, has been around for years and counts some 45 million users worldwide.

Apple took the wraps off its plans for iMessage on Monday. Shortly after that, MG Siegler over at Techcruch claimed that iMessage will spell the end of SMS.

Siegler writes: “As one of the core new features highlighted today in iOS 5, iMessages has one purpose: to kill SMS.” (He defines SMS as “traditional carrier-controlled text messages.”) How will this happen? Siegler has the answer. “iMessages will do this by replacing SMS with a service that Apple is in control of across all of their iOS devices. And here’s the real death blow: iMessages will be completely free.”

Siegler is ecstatic as he outlines the scenarios that will allow Apple to change the game. “Sure, you can argue that iMessages is limited due to the iOS requirement. But as Apple announced today, there are over 200 million iOS devices out there now. That’s a lot. Like Blackberry Messenger before it, Apple now has the strength to create their own device-to-device messaging application. And that’s exactly what they’ve done. And considering what a colossal rip-off SMS is, I can’t help but love this move. It’s exactly what I’ve been waiting for.”

How I See It: There are many reasons why Siegler may have written this piece. He may have thought it would be good link bait (after all, I fell for it). Or he may have wanted to spark debate and drive comments. (There were 72 comments just three hours after the piece posted, as well as over 900 tweets.) Or maybe his views were colored by the fact that he thinks like a tech reporter, not a typical mobile subscriber who uses text messaging daily (comScore reports that over 70 percent of the more than 300 million mobile users in the U.S. use SMS once a day). No matter Siegler’s views or motivations, iMessage simply won’t kill SMS because Apple’s approach is not open. Text messaging allows virtually anyone anywhere on the planet to use their phone (any phone) to send and receive text messages. Apple is keeping its service closed. You can only message if you have an iOS device and the person you are reaching out to is an Apple consumer. If not, no go. It’s an important message Siegler fails to get.

* * *

eMarketer is a go-to source and analyst Noah Elkin is one of eMarketer’s best. During a webinar I attended this week (Mobile, Social & Geolocation—Key Trends for Marketers), Elkin cut through the hype around location-based services. In his most memorable moment he said: “Marketers should be more interested in checkout than check-in.”

Among other useful facts I gleaned from the webinar:

  • 68 percent are happy with their browsing experience on a tablet, while 42 percent of smartphone users are pleased.
  • Smartphone owners use social products and services twice as much on mobile as “feature phone” owners.
  • 4 percent of worldwide Internet traffic is via mobile, double over year ago.

How I See It: Noah’s webinar was thought-provoking and worthwhile. But I differ with his observation that mobility is no longer about communication. Elkin told us to “Forget the post-PC era; we’re in post-mobile era.” Noah was referring to the adoption of tablets, a development he said resulted in the “irrelevance of voice.” It made for a tweetable soundbite, but it’s simply not the case. As I (and Peggy) have pointed out many times on MobileGroove, mobility is about wireless devices and what we can do with them. If anything, we’re entering a new phase in the evolution of communication (and voice is a big part of that). The rise of voice-activated search and services indicate speaking on a phone is an activity that is not disappearing any time soon. In a way, it’s very similar to text messaging, an activity that is ingrained in our collective behavior and synonymous with mobility.

* * *

New York is the setting for two major conferences sure to produce interesting debate and continue the discussion about the real nature of wireless.

The Mobile Marketing Association is holding its largest industry show of the year, bringing some 700 professionals (brands, marketers, agencies, vendors, operators) to Manhattan for workshops followed by two days of presentations and panels.

Among the highlights: The Tribune Company will speak on the future of publishing  in a speech aptly titled: Embracing the Changing Face of Publishing and Consumer Engagement — Don’t Get Left Behind. A discussion titled Evolution of LBS and Hyper-Local Marketing: from Advertising to Commerce will shed light on the future of proximity marketing and commerce. And a talk involving Google (called 360-Degree View: What We Can Learn from Mobile Consumer Behavior) is sure to be well received and reported.

Uptown on Wednesday and Thursday, Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters Conference will attract over 1,000 attendees, living up to its reputation as “the largest worldwide gathering of people interested in the effects of the real-time Internet on both business and ‘me – the people’.”

And the appeal of this event is truly global. Last year, more than 77,000 watched a stream of the event. This year’s show again will be available for live viewing here –

I’m honored to be part of Pulver’s landmark event, where I will discuss new research into how consumers use their mobile devices during their shopping experiences. These insights are based on findings I will officially release during the event detailing precisely how consumers use their mobile devices to influence decisions at the point of sale.  Included will be data on whether (and how much) people use  Twitter, Facebook and text messaging to share their shopping experience with peers. In addition, I will talk to whether mobile users post more positive or negative experiences to their social networks. And I’ll also examine the ability of these posts to influence the people who read them. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ll look whether brands respond – and whether consumers want brands to respond more often.

My session is scheduled for approximately 4:30 p.m. EST on Thursday.

How I See It: These are key industry events that you can/should join and follow. There will be no live stream of the MMA event, but you can count on extensive coverage on Twitter. You can watch a stream of Pulver’s event, or follow it on Twitter. (The hashtag for Pulver’s show is #140conf.) Both shows are certain to provide valuable insights and new connections.

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