Blog Post

Text Messages: No Longer the Domain of Carriers

Although it may stagger some knowing the world has more than five billion mobile device subscriptions, that number is dwarfed by the number of text messages sent worldwide. The International Telecommunications Union estimates 6.1 trillion SMS and texts will be sent this year, while ABI Research figures that number will surpass 7 trillion in 2011. Such numbers are good for the carriers since texts are huge profit generators, but there’s plenty of opportunity for third parties too.

Take textPlus from GOGII, for example, a messaging application for iOS and Android devices available in both a free (ad-supported) and a paid version. The software brings text messaging functionality both to phones and non-phone devices, such as the Apple’s (s aapl) iPad and iPod touch as well as my Samsung Galaxy Tab. Even though phones have their own messaging app, textPlus brings advanced features such as group texts and communities of topic-driven mobile chat. TextPlus may be dwarfed by the overall messaging market, but its numbers for 2010 are still impressive:

  • The latest iteration of the app, textPlus 4, is adding about 50,000 users per day, with more than 300,000 new users added on Christmas day.
  • Those new users jumped right in on Christmas: textPlus delivered 190 messages per second for a one-day total of 32 million messages.
  • Over 5 billion messages will be served by textPlus this year, and the application has seen 11.5 million downloads.

I have an open question in to GOGII about the revenue stream generated by textPlus, as I suspect the majority of users opt for the free, ad-supported version. If that’s the case, the application is at the mercy of users who may or may not click an ad, but those 32 million messages on Christmas gave the company a large number of click-through opportunities, to be sure.

It impresses me that companies such as GOGII are finding ways to monetize services that were once relegated solely to the domain of carriers. Part of the strategy is getting to customers before network operators do.

Case in point: My 10-year-old step-daughter and her friends use messaging apps like this because most of them don’t have phones and yet they want to communicate with their friends the same way we adults do. And parents don’t want to start the kids on phones too early, nor do they want the monthly bill. Instead, kids are using computers, iPod touches and other connected devices, bringing texting to a younger audience before they even get phones.

Perhaps the huge numbers from third-party text messaging services shouldn’t surprise me; I actually can’t remember the last time I sent a text directly through my carrier. Once I got a Google Voice (s goog) number, I’ve sent all of my texts for free directly through Google using both Android mobile devices and a Google Voice extension in my computer browser. Maybe I’m getting down with the hip, younger crowd again?

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9 Responses to “Text Messages: No Longer the Domain of Carriers”

  1. There are shortcomings to all the various group text chat options including TextPlus except 1. The only group text chat option that does NOT require a web site, allows the CC: to be viewed and edited by each user, does not require creating group lists and does not involve special texting codes is Smashtalk. The good news is that Smashtalk is fully developed and ready for deployment. The sad news is that due to the lack of access to the SMS interface in EVERY vendor’s smartphones, the software requires special permission from each vendor.

    If you really want seamless group chat via text on your smartphone, please notify the carrier and vendor. They are aware of Smashtalk and do not think it is something their customers want. Want the name of the persons at your carrier or vendor to call, drop me a note from my web site and I will forward that info to you.

    You can have text messages with the Reply-All function that is equivalent to what you enjoy in e-mail. All it takes is telling your carriers and vendors you want it!

  2. studentrn

    I have been able to switch over to my google voice number completely now that the official good voice app is available on the iPhone with push notifications. I still use GC Connect when replying to sms or reading/listening to voicemails. The official version may work nice for notification, but it’s still a bit feature lacking when compared to others that have been out longer(such as GV Mobile, which is very simular to GV connect)

    I used to keep googles “special” number as a extra number for each contact, so that I could still hide behind my Google number…but now the app solves all that. So now I’m on the 200 txt /month plan, which I reserve for MMS….since GV still cant send picture messages.

  3. Since you basically mention “SMS on your computer” (Google Voice in your computer browser) … I have to ask a question that has nagged me for a while:

    What’s the difference between SMS/MMS and Instant Messaging? Yes, the underlying protocol and implementation are different, but at the surface, they’re the same. Once upon a time, you could say “SMS is something you do on your phone, and IM is something you don your computer”, but that’s not really true anymore. You can IM from your phone, and I’ve been able to send SMS messages to phones from my IM account for years (AOL: +1XXXYYYZZZZ to send to that phone number).

    MMS can send pictures? I do that in IM too.

    The difference seems to me to be arbitrary, and only imagined by those who lack sufficient ability to take a step back and actually look at what they’re doing. In fact, there are people that I talk to where I never know if they’re on their computer, or their phone … nor does it matter to me, which one they’re on. The only thing I lack is the ability to seamlessly unify the chat logs between my phone and IM client. Well, that, and, if the conversation starts in SMS/MMS, there isn’t an easy way to migrate the conversation to another device (an argument in favor of IM).

    And, in that light … it seems to me that this is already a solved problem. Put an IM client on your phone (especially a multi-protocol one). Add a +1(phonenumber) buddy into the AOL account in your multi-protocol chat program. Now it’s all the same thing.

    The thing we need to argue in favor of, in my opinion, is improving the sorry state of “IM on Phone” user interfaces and features. I have yet to use one that didn’t suck. The interfaces suck, the multi-account multi-protocol features suck, etc. And, again, lack of an easy/seamless mechanism for migrating the logs and integrating them into the logs of my desktop IM client (Adium X, in my case). Fix that, and the rest falls into place.

    For example, your stated problem about kids who want to start SMS/MMS type communication with their friends before their parents are ready to give them cell phones? Give them IM accounts. When they finally do get phones, give them an IM client on their phone. Then they instantly migrate all of their contacts, without having to jump through any hoops.

  4. The hidden problem with all these third party text applications is that you have to convince someone else to download and use them. Try doing that with a non-technie / non-early adopter.

    Google Voice so far seems to have the best replacement for SMS though the inability to accept MMS is definitely a downer. I’ve cancelled my Verizon SMS plan and text exclusively for free via GV on my Droid X.

    I don’t see a business model for the tons of third party group text messaging services because it’s way too hard to convince everyone to switch to a new text messaging platform when everyone is already used to using their own favorite — or just plain old SMS.

    Try using something like Beluga and sending a message to a non-techie. Invariably you’ll get asked “what’s this?” — is this some type of spam? The current user experience is too confusing for most people.

    However just like AOL and Yahoo chat rooms grew a loyal following — you’re seeing group chat pick up similar steam. I do not think however that these group chats of pseudo SMS apps will grow to be that big.

  5. I was one of the people who downloaded the plus version of of the app. I think the interface for ipad is alright, and for three dollars its a good deal. I also find that users who want to initiate a chat with you have to dial a preset number and type in your user name is a HUGE turn off.

    I prefer using text 4 free which gives you a proper number. The only problem is that this app doesn’t have an ipad optimized version yet.

    Sorry for any grammar or spelling issues, I’m on my phone.

  6. James Morman

    What someone needs to come up with is either Google Voice needs to incorporate mms, or carriers need to develop mobile SMS/MMS apps for other devices besides the phone the customers number is assigned to. I have a galaxy tab with its own number that is not my main voice number and it has google voice with no mms. Why cant verizon let me use my cell number to SMS/MMS from my Galaxy Tab or for that matter from any device I login to? (I dont count, no mms there either).