Back in 2012, in a BBC interview with The Reluctant Father of SMS, Matti Makkonen gave his opinion on one of the buzz topics of today’s tech scene. In what other way would he answer, if not by sending an SMS:
“Will sms survive another 20 years – or will Facebook, Skype and other instant messaging chat systems take over? 20 years is long time… I believe that reliable convenient to use text messaging will stay forever. Is not necessary what we call sms. No more pay per message.”
Today, a few years later, the question seems ridiculously obvious. Another 20? No way. From 1995 – three years after the first SMS was sent – to 2014, the global population penetration of mobile phone users has gone from 1% to 73%, which translates to 5.2 billion people, where 40% are smartphone users, according to Mary Meekers 2015 Trend Report. With fresh trend reports and crisp data pointing in the same direction, it’s safe to say that mobile messaging apps are doing well, and that Father Makkonen seems onto something good.
IM apps, such as WhatsApp, Voxer or Viber are growing at a fast page. During 2013, the worldwide usage increased by 316%, and from Q1 in 2013 to Q3 2014, the community grew with 170 million new global users. WhatsApp, being one of the most popular messaging apps, went from 200 to 800 million active users in just two years, and the others are following the trend.
The rigorous rise of instant messaging doesn’t necessarily imply a decrease in SMS usage. In fact, SMS is also expected to continue growing – for now. In early 2013, technology journalist Robin Wauters wrote an article in TNW, emphasizing the important ubiquity factor in successful communication – which is in fact still possessed by SMS. In other words, the good old Short Message Service is still the one solution, not requiring app installations or friend requests, not relying on tech heavy solutions or the operator at hand.
Within a subject like this, it’s fairly easy to solely focus on tech innovation markets and early adopters. However, there are still many developing countries that still “rely heavily on SMS for communication”. Through the simple means of an SMS, mobile payments, job opportunities or disaster response (to name a few) can be increased in developing regions such as Africa. “The challenge now is to enable developing countries to develop their own locally relevant mobile applications so they can take full advantage of these opportunities,” says Rachel Kyte, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank. With her quote, Kyte encapsulates what seems to be the essence of the survival of SMS…
Digital Marketer Jamie Tolentino’s trend insight, published on TNW News in April this year, brings up the subject of SMS by listing four crucial incitements for its continued usage. In short, it’s about ease and ability as well as expanded areas of use in today’s tech environment. With lower communication barriers, a 90 percent read rate in minutes and higher engagement rates than emails and OTT apps, SMS is the most reach effective alternative when it comes to timeliness, she argues. It’s a “one size”, making almost everyone reachable. Furthermore, A2P (Application-to-Person) SMS (such as payment confirmations or mobile ticketing) is becoming easier for companies to access and implement with the cloud services now provided. Lastly, the increasing demand for mobile security also increases the relevance of traditional texting by using it as an authentication method.
Other ways of re-inventing old technology has been proven by new SMS services, such as GoButler or Magic, meeting the emerging market demand of Just-In-Time Services. By simply being “your butler, your concierge, your personal assistant” using old school SMS communication, these innovations has helped SMS to penetrate an otherwise IM dominated market.
As for today, who kills who depends on the audience you’re looking to attract, which for instance makes sense when listing pros and cons of SMS versus Push Notifications. 3 out of 5 are still using feature phones, which means that ubiquity and reach still fights against cheaper and more engaging, however dispersed, alternatives. But in 20 years, can we still refer to SMS as “one of the primary sources of communication”?
IM is not only an emerging market within the tech-savvy sector. These apps are also “Simple. Personal.” (WhatsApp), “Fun, FREE” (former MessageMe) and again, initiating the users to “Connect. Freely.” (Viber). Not do they only provide a communications service free of charge, but also an extension of the traditional text based mediated communication, implementing features such as gaming or multimedia creation and sharing.
With more and better ways of interacting, engagement and retention will follow, and popularity with it. When something becomes popular it attracts even more users, and more users make for standardizations. Guess what? SMS then drops its strongest argument.
So, will messaging apps kill SMS? I asked a couple of developers and the answer was doubtless: “SMS is already dying IMO”.
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