Text Messaging Turns 20 Years Old Today. Will It Make Another 5 Though?

Yes, 20 years ago today the simple text message (SMS) was born. On 3 December 1992 a 22-year-old British engineer called Neil Papworth used his computer to send the message “Merry Christmas” to an Orbitel 901 mobile phone.

Things have moved a long way since then with SMS messaging now part of our daily lives, integrating into our social lives from things such as TV voting, to paying for postage to creating books. Billions are sent every New Year’s Eve alone often grinding the mobile networks to a halt as they try and process them.

Text Messaging Turns 20 Years Old Today - SMS volume per year

But what of the future of SMS messaging? It certainly won’t make another 20 years as data based text messaging services offering richer functionality take over. Will it see any use in as little as 5 years?

WhatsApp messenger has been around for years now offering a cross-platform instant chat client with additional features like embedding photos, voice clips and your GPS location on a map.

They recently announced they were handling over 1 Billion messages every day, and that was a year ago. August of this year it was reportedly covering 10 Billion per day, and all from an idea that was only started 3 years ago.

Apple jumped on board, announcing iMessage at WWDC2011 June 6th, and it debuted to the public with the release of iOS5 on October 12, 2011.

During its iPad Mini announcement on October 23rd Apple announced it was sending 28’000 iMessages per second, with a total of 300 Billion sent since iOS5 introduction – that’s an average of around 795 million per day, although obviously this number will be weighted toward the latter half of 2012 so its reasonable to assume Apple is sending around 2 or 3 billion iMessage’s per day now.

There are numerous other SMS replacement services too, Viber for example is growing in popularity with over 100 million users and 6 billion instant messages per month, lets not forget Skype which although primarily a voice/video service also has a heavily used IM/chat capability.

Finally Facebook Chat is becoming more and more used by the Facebook faithful as an alternative way or staying in touch with their friends. Chat was first introduced on the Facebook site in April 2008 and later native integration with Skype was also added. In August 2011 things really took off as Facebook Messenger standalone App was released for various mobile operating systems, and although we haven’t seen any official usage figures yet there is little doubt the 1 billion+ Facebook users are making good use of it.

o2 sms usage 2011-2012Overall the next 5 years look pretty bleak for the SMS service.

O2 have confirmed that the number of SMS messages sent last New Year’s Eve were down 17.1% (combined Dec 31st and Jan 1st) compared to 2010/2011, while data based MMS messages were up 39%.

This is the first time the number of messages sent/received has dropped, with each year up to 2011 showing a percentage increase. Clearly a tipping point has been reached and we can expect overall usage of SMS to continue to fall…


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