Can SMS Evolve Into An IM Service?

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SMS
Instant Messaging (IM) services have grown very popular over the years. Those of us who have been around for long are probably still fans of Yahoo Messenger. Then there’s Google Talk.

But there are new kids on the block, the most popular of which is WhatsApp. Besides that, there are also Kik, Ping, Blackberry Messenger, ChatOn, iMessenger, and FaceBook Chat.

Regardless of how popular IM services have been, however, there is one nagging problem – the non-universal nature of the services.

Both WhatsApp and Kik are available for all major smartphone platforms – Android, Symbian, iOS, Blackberry. Viber is available only for Android and iOS. Whatever the reach of each service, the user has to know about them first and then go install them to their phones.

For example, If I have WhatsApp installed and running on my phone, some of my contacts may not have it on theirs. Some of them may be using Kik or BBM or some other service. Problem.

WhatsApp has been the most popular. For the purpose of this discussion, let us assume that everyone we know is using this service. WhatsApp is a paid service and after a trial free period, a subscription is required. Not everyone will pay for the service. As such, I will end up losing some contacts.

SMS – From Messaging To Instant Messaging

Short Message Service (SMS) has been around for ages. It was not designed as an IM service, but shall we consider the possibility of its evolution into one?

SMS is ubiquitous. SMS is built into the GSM technology of networks. Its capability is built into every mobile in production. These two points mean that the problem of universality is solved (or removed from the way). In addition, it is always-on as long as your phone is switched on and within coverage area. No configuration needed to get it working.

Would it be too difficult to evolve SMS into an IM service? I don’t think so – and I think that this is eventually what will happen.

Already, the modern conversation-style user interface of SMS in modern smartphones has taken it one step closer to the IM goal.

How fast will this transition or evolution happen? I don’t know. But I am sticking my neck out that it will eventually. SMS will evolve into the mother of all mobile IM services.

Comments welcome!


  1. The cost of text messaging inter network and intra network will probably determine how successful this will be in the near future. Probably with time, some of this instant messaging apps may become extinct leaving a few dominant ones.

  2. I really don’t see it happening.
    Reason is not far fetched…It is not instant!
    Whatever technology powers it made dead on arrival for use as an IM. What I rather see happening is a dorminant app like whatsapp getting more patronage, or RIM getting wise and selling its BBM services to other smartphone companies to bring about the mother of all IM convergence.

  3. Well it is possible for SMS to evolve into IM but the major obstacle will be the pricing. If the pricing is right, then why not? What I will consider right price is something like 50k/SMS. That might sound outrageous but that is the only price I will consider fair enough to use the service as IM tool.

  4. with reference to whatsapp/bbm, their success and capability is basicaly cos they are powered by data.having to incorporate such user interface/experience and capability on the sms platform would cost the consumer so much money. besides not all phones are data enabled which poses another challenge too

  5. I am reading some of your responses about pricing and the nature of SMS posing challenges. One would suppose that my use of the concept of “evolution” would have taken care of that.

    If SMS evolves, surely changes to those things will be part of the evolution process. No?

  6. ADVANTAGES

    SMS available on all phones (ubiquitous)

    DISADVANTAGES

    Costlier than data_based IMs
    delivery Often not instantaneous
    Implementation hurdles. Major.

    VERDICT

    the hurdle is much. A new framework has tp be agreed upon by the manufacturers, network providers, etc.
    Can nit see it happening anytime soon.

    What would be the COLLECTIVE motivation for these parties? And who would start this (r)evolution?

  7. @Mr. Mobility

    I am reading some of your responses about pricing and the nature of SMS posing challenges. One would suppose that my use of the concept of “evolution ” would have taken care of that.

    If SMS evolves, surely changes to those things will be part of the evolution process. No?

    It appears you are implying using the existing data technologies in this evolution, like GPRS/EDGE, 3G (HSPA), etc. Well, if this is what you mean, some of the gains you have already acknowledged in this article will be eroded in the process of the evolution, in particular:

    SMS is ubiquitous. SMS is built into the GSM technology of networks. Its capability is built into every mobile in production. These two points mean that the problem of universality is solved (or removed from the way). In addition, it is always-on as long as your phone is switched on and within coverage area. No configuration needed to get it working.

    That is:
    * No longer universal as dumb phones will not be carried along;
    * No longer always on as people can turn data connection on their phones off;
    * No longer a usable feature out of the box as most phones still require configuration to use data services.

    I might be getting it all wrong and in that case some clarification will do here.

  8. I agree it is possible after crossing some hurdles; it would have to become instant, telecos globally would have to agree on a frame work to work on and much more.

    I would think an app like whatsapp would cut in. all they have to do is make paying for their app easy for everyone, even those of us in developing countries where only a few have access to online payment.

    Won’t you pay N300 per year for an app like whatsapp especially if most of your friends are in it. I would.

  9. It appears you are implying using the existing data technologies in this evolution, like GPRS/EDGE, 3G (HSPA), etc

    I doubt that anything in my article implies the above.

  10. Early this morning, i got a message from airtel which reads:
    Stay connected with friends, relatives, colleagues.SMS rates reduced to 1N to all Airtel lines till midnight Today.Start sending now!

    I believe with this, it’s very possible for the SMS to evolve to an IM. Sometimes, i do text on my bb Asia i’m pinging and it’s always fun… Anyone on Airtel’s Club 10 can attest to this. In recent times, people find messaging more convenient with pings, Facebook message and even an offline on 2go… If our network providers can keep the cost at N1 per sms, it sure will evolve to a very comfortable and cost effective instant messaging service.
    I rest my case

  11. I really don’t see it happening.
    Reason is not far fetched…It is not instant!

    Actually, that is untrue. When I send an SMS, it almost always gets delivered immediately – except when there is a network issue. Of course, that is the same for other IM platforms too – if there is a network issue, messages are not delivered immediately either.

  12. @mr mobility
    i wonder why u didnt mention 2go. 2go is by far more popular than whatsapp In nigeria. It can work on all phones. Java, android, bb, symbian. Nobody is left out cos the app is very very light. Just 200kb and sometimes less depending on phone model. Another strong advantage of 2go is its very cheap. Costs abt 15naira to chat if abt 30friends are online for an hour… According to google after ‘facebook’, 2go is the second most popular google search In Nigeria in 2011.

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