The humble SMS, that universal bare-bones messaging service, is twenty years old. The first SMS was sent on December 3 1992, though it wasn’t commercially

At 20, SMS Is Still Blazing On And Not Relenting Yet

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The humble SMS, that universal bare-bones messaging service, is twenty years old. The first SMS was sent on December 3 1992, though it wasn’t commercially deployed until 1993. Since then, SMS has ruled data in the GSM mobile world. Nothing has come close ever since. Nothing.

Amazing; isn’t it? 160 characters, and your message gets to any GSM mobile phone on the planet. Any. The ubiquity of SMS is its greatest strength. No subscriptions required. No internet required. No setup process. Put your SIM in your phone and you are ready to send and receive SMS. Simply put, SMS is brilliant.

This is why despite the media hype about apps (especially IM apps), SMS continues to record growing usage. Yes; instant messaging is growing too, but it is still some way to catch up with SMS. The ubiquity of SMS makes it a tough one to beat.

According to Pew, the number of U.S. phone owners who text on their phones has grown to 80 percent from 58 percent in 2007. This is despite the growing adoption of smartphones. You can imagine what the rest of the world looks like.

Changing Usage Patterns

I fully expect that as affordable mobile internet goes round and smartphones get more popular (and I’m not talking about the U.S. market, but markets in which real growth is happening in mobile), IM will finally catch up with SMS for personal messaging. Note that I said, personal messaging. Outside of that, SMS will still continue to shine. Think of business notifications, banking alerts, shopping alerts, security alerts, and the like, and nothing still beats SMS. People who scream about how SMS will die soon really have no idea what is going on. SMS usage is still growing. Bulk SMS text messaging in particular has become something really huge.

Many IM and social networking services still depend on SMS. WhatsApp confirmation/verification is done via SMS. Twitter notifications, and such from Facebook and other services, all run on SMS. Now, you can tweet via SMS without an internet connection. Even my webhost sends me an SMS whenever my account password is changed. Awesome!

Mobile Marketing

Where would mobile marketing be without SMS? More accurately, where would mobile marketing be without targeted, permission-based bulk SMS text messaging?

bulk SMS text messaging

SMS, Mobile Web, Apps

The U.S. market is often touted as a place where apps and IM rule supreme, though the informed know that this is far from the truth. Coca-Cola are kings at advertising. Coke dedicates 70% of their mobile spending on… yes; SMS (and MMS). The rest is spread between mobile web (20%) and apps (10%). Those people are smart and obviously not taken in by hype (though they sell a lot of it too). There we go: besides the huge spending on SMS/MMS, even Coke spends more on mobile web than they do apps. It reinforces my position on the debate.

When developers in these parts ask me about what platforms to pay attention to, SMS is tops on my list. Then mobile web. Then apps. According to Pew’s research, in the U.S., 68% of mobile users use SMS, 48% use mobile internet and only 37% use apps. That is the U.S. where the app hype is the loudest. The situation on ground here and in many other places show a greater disparity.

Don’t get me wrong. Yes; some scenarios mean that one platform is more suited than the others. I am not asking anyone to dump their app development for SMS and mobile web. As always, I am just painting thee picture clearly so that people can make more informed choices. If your idea needs an app, then it needs an app. Develop an app.

Whether you are a developer or a business looking to leverage on mobile, don’t ignore the almighty SMS. At least not yet. This old soldier shows no signs of dying. Dear mobilistas, a toast to good old SMS!


  1. Though I use SMS sparingly these days, I still get quite a bunch of it on a daily basis from both operators and businesses offering both goods and services. It certainly is more direct in adverts when compared to other media formats.

    And, SMS is particularly better suited for occasions like the Christmas where you need to reach a good number of people with greetings and wishes. IM services are by far cheaper than SMS but with SMS, you don’t need to worry about the type of phone the recipient is using since every phone has the feature out of the box.

  2. I would debate whether IM is cheaper than SMS only because you’re at the mercy of the network. Often I feel less frustrated if a text doesn’t get sent than an IM.

    And it works on the premise that everyone else you’re in communication with uses IM, or the same IM. SMS is simpler that way – everyone, regardless of platform, can receive and send them.

    Having said that, SMS has spoiled us. Forcing yourself to 140 characters like Twitter does makes you appreciate those extra 20!

  3. The best is getting your Gmail, banking and Facebook notifications via SMS. Inasmuch as there is some stray of network in your phone, you’ll always know what’s happening. Excellent!

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