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A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that the volume of texting was dipping sharply. Of course the statistic that in the second half of 2010 over a trillion texts were sent and received in the US alone, would do little to support this theory. Although when you look at the supporting evidence that this rise was in fact only an 8.7% increase from the first half of the year you may start to think differently. Still a pretty healthy rise I hear you say. Well, that too is just part of the story...
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The Twitter Effect
Of course texting is still going up in terms of numbers, as more people are now using smartphone and feature phones than ever before so the two go hand in hand -- I bet even your parents, or even your grandparents have a mobile phone now (and have asked you to show them how to use it!). However, the rise in texting is certainly slowing and certainly isn't in line with the increased activity in the cell phone industry as a whole.
For example, Twitter recently announced some impressive growth statistics to celebrate their five year anniversary. This time a year ago the average number of tweets sent per day was 50 million. Taking last month (June 2011) as a comparison of activity, shows that the average number of tweets sent in a day was 140 million. And much of this is due to it being so easy to use on your mobile phone, with a similar short and sweet approach to texting. In fact Twitter has enjoyed a 180% increase in mobile phone users in the last year. So is Twitter to blame for the slow in SMS texts, or is there more to it?
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The Rise of Social Networking
Of course social networking is to blame for a great deal of the dip in texting. Why pay to send 10 texts to your friends when you can just send them a message via Facebook, chat on Facebook, update your Facebook status... you get the message, Facebook is free and you can reach as many people as you want. With the new deal agreed to integrate Skype into Facebook this can only further negate the need for texting. Yes you can use Skype for actual talking, but the instant message feature is a comparable and attractive alternative. Skype is also ideal for keeping in contact with those that don't necessarily have a mobile phone, or that you don't know the number of.
Twitter, for the same reason, has the added attraction of being able to connect with people without having to swap numbers, and even to block users you don't want to communicate with.
Both Twitter and Facebook are truly global too, so it's not going to cost you any more to reach out to your friend on a different continent than it would to message your mate round the corner. Texting, by comparison, costs an average of 25 cents to contact someone in a different country -- that's per text, and also many carriers would then charge you around 20 cents to receive a reply.
When even teen texting is taking a dip then it's time to take notice too. While even a year or two ago the thought of a teen losing the facility to text would have been akin to losing a limb, when asked in a recent survey of American teens what they would do if they couldn't text, they responded "I wouldn't mind because I have Facebook." Although the same study also showed that teen texting is still big business (45% text an amazing 30 times a day), compared to past studies the use of texting by teens is seen as low. Social networking is clearly a big reason for this, but instant messaging in other forms is having a big impact too.
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Could Apple Hammer the Nail in the Coffin of Texting?
Yes, I know BlackBerry already offers the BB Messenger which is a big hit with teens and fashionistas, but Apple's upcoming iMessage is going to take instant messaging to a whole new level. When Apple speaks, people listen (even if we want to shout back a bit sometimes). With the iPhone being the most popular smartphone in the US, of course iMessage is going to do some damage to SMS texting; it stands to reason.
It's fair to say that most of us text with our phones more than we talk on them, so if you can reduce your monthly bill by cutting out text costs and use iMessage instead, then of course you are going to do that. iPhone's aren't exactly cheap to begin with, which may be another reason Apple is bringing this feature in, to try and appeal to those with less cash -- there are even rumors of a budget iPhone in the works, but I digress.
iMessage is also going to mean you can send photos and videos free of charge too, which is also going to cut out the need for MMS messages, which carriers charge a significantly higher rate for than SMS texts, so you can see it's an attractive proposition. Of course to use iMessage you will still need to use either Wi-Fi or your 3G connection -- so there's data charges to consider then!
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Your Carrier Is On To It
While your carrier may have been a bit slow to realize this transition from less texting to using more data, they are mostly certainly aware of it now.
Although many cell phone contracts come with data plans, this often isn't sufficient to meet your needs and you have to shell out more cash on a monthly basis. Verizon has even abandoned their unlimited data plan this month, and others got rid of this service for their customers some time ago. This is because we use our phones for so much more now than calls and texts, so data charges are the future revenue streams for carriers. My personal contract includes "unlimited texts" which is apparently very generous, but also pretty meaningless as even 200 texts a month would be way more than I'd need. This of course, was previously the case with data charges -- carriers could be as generous as they liked because we didn't use that much data, but times are changing.
Data charges are the future for carriers wanting to keep up that income stream from lost revenues in texting. It's not all good news for the carriers either though; the profit from data charges is a measly 35 cents per dollar you spend, compared to 80 cents profit per dollar you spend on texting. So this poses somewhat of a challenge to the carriers then, who would much rather we spent more, rather than less time texting.
Maybe if they start offering unlimited calling plans, we'd all start to use our phones for their original and intended purpose and start talking to people? Nah!
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- Text Messaging Still King, http://www.textmessageblog.mobi/2011/02/22/text-messaging-still-king/
- Twitter by Numbers, Telegraph, http://www.textmessageblog.mobi/2011/02/22/text-messaging-still-king/
- Cellphone carriers face pressure over texting, Wall Street Journal, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304778304576373860513481364.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
- Challenges and Opportunities for Emerging Chat Applications, Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/the-challenges-and-opportunities-for-emerging-chat-applications-2011-7
- Girls texting - Bergenr/photobucket
- Twitter Logo, Twitter - http://twitter.com/about/resources/logos
- iMessage, Apple - http://www.apple.com/ios/ios5/features.html#imessage
- Female teen texting - cutie_rock/photobucket