SMS, the cockroach of smartphone services

Published by Ewan Spence at 11:23 UTC, December 30th 2010

An interesting few thoughts from Pat Phelan (Head of Innovation at Cubic Telecom) based around SMS. The starting point is the impending tidal wave of text messages of “congratulations and all the best” and the realisation that while he personally can’t stand them, for network operators this time of year is a license to print money. Is SMS usage going down? Yes, but not in a significant number. The simple reason is that there’s nothing easy to replace it.

A lot of people are moving towards IM on their phones, but as I’ve argued before, the landscape is incredibly fractured, not only because of the number of IM networks out there, but the number of different clients, all seeming to require their own account set-up before you can get to your network of friends. Admittedly Google kind of solves this problem, but mostly because they say “use our IM system (Google Talk) and hope all your friends do as well”.

Which is one way of getting round the problem, but I’m not that sure that it addresses all the other concerns that mean IM isn’t suitable to mobile (staying connected, battery life, fast text input, etc). IM is great for a desktop computer, where you are connected most of the time you are working, can reply as required, and have the benefits of lots of screen space and full sized keyboards. I’ve never yet found a workabale mobile solution.

So the universal system of SMS that’s understood by pretty much every phone on the planet is going to be here to stay for a few years yet. I just don’t see how a cross-platform solution that works for everyone can be implemented across manufacturers and networks without a real drive to see it succeed. Especially when SMS revenues are still a big profit centre.

When you need the reassurance that a message is going to get to the recipient, I don’t think you can beat the humble text message, even if 160 characters is going to make you sound a little bit false.

-- Ewan Spence, Dec 2010.

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