Monday, September 26, 2005 - Text Messages Sent by Cellphone Finally Catch On in U.S.

Read the Wall Street Journal article here.

One of my pet peeves is when people say "The US is so behind in cell phone technology". This is garbage. One of the things they point to is our slow to non-existent embracing of SMS text messages. Now don't get me wrong, I think the SMS Gateway in ColdFusion MX 7 is one sweet feature. But text messaging has always left me cold (ha-ha). Why work 10 minutes on sending a text message when you can just make the call?

Here is a quote from the article that echo's my argument:

Text messaging usage is much higher in Europe and Asia largely because most cell phone users there pay per call or per message. Since text messages generally cost less than voice calls, customers have an economic incentive to go that route. In Britain, depending on calling plans, customers of wireless operator Orange may pay as much as 63 cents a minute to call customers of other U.K. mobile networks, while a text message costs only 18 cents, according to prices listed on Orange's Web site.

By contrast, there's little economic incentive to text-message in the U.S. because most cell phone users are on calling plans that include large bundles of voice minutes, plus unlimited off-peak and weekend minutes. Often there's no cost to make an additional phone call but for most it costs an additional charge to send a text message. Wireless company executives acknowledge that it's not easy to persuade ordinary Americans to add a new category to their cell phone bills.

So the cell phone companies are slowly convincing adults to add $10 to their bill for the privilege of 'catching up' to the Europeans and Japanese. It is worth noting that Sprint has only recently had useful SMS support in their phones. People (and you know who you are) criticized them for this. But wait, you could send Email to and from a Sprint PCS phone from day one. Why doesn't everyone do that? That way I can forward mail to/from my desktop or phone, similar to what the IM protocols also allow. They had the real thing, why support the 160 character limited thing? You got me.

It also pretty unfair to compare the wireless technologies in the US with other (physically smaller) places. We have wires already. Wires work better in almost all cases. But they are expensive. Of course countries without wires already will focus on wireless infrastructure. But does that make us "behind". I don't think so.

Ok, back to more ColdFusion related things...


Michael Hansen said...

"Text messaging usage is much higher in Europe and Asia largely because most cell phone users there pay per call or per message."

This is wrong imho. I'm a Dane, and we've been doing SMS for almost 10 years now. Our cell prices over here is about 0.11USD/min. Not cheap, but not all that expensive either. Still SMS is _very_ popular.

I believe the reason for the success of SMS is that it offers a 'casual' way of communication much like IM services. You message somebody, and they respond when they feel like it or have the time _depending on the information sent_.

Use-case: teenage-girl1 sms to teenage-girl2: "David just told me that he really likes you"

Teenage-girl2 may or may not respond to this message:

Case1: She may call if David is on her 'hot list', and she absolutely must learn everything about what David has said. (this would properly be the only reason that she'll do a call)

Case2: She may sms if she's in class where a call is out of the question.

Case3: She may be at the movies(mobiles not allowed)), and thus not respond instantaneously. She will however receive this 'vital' message when she leaves the theater. If David is not deemed 'hot', she may not even bother to reply.

teenage-girl1 expects no answer. It's part of the 'code'. In other words SMS services allow the users to prioritize their time. It's a social thing. It's a way of keeping track of friends and family on a continuous scale. "What's up", "Party at Johns tonight at 8. you coming?", "I'm delayed", etc...

The phone on the other hand is a much more Boolean-like thing. Either you don't pick up the phone, and potentially miss some vital information OR you pick up the phone and risk wasting time when you can't afford it because your to polite to tell the caller that you don't find this call important enough in relation to your current modus operandi. Also talking in a phone in public space is often considered very intrusive, and impolite (restaurants, supermarkets, parties, bars etc.). Sms on vibrate, and a bit of typing does not seems to bother any body.

And by the way a SMS message may be typed by any person below 30years of age in about 10 second (no kidding) not 10 min. The predictive vocabularies are very good, and it's relatively easy to get to be a fast typist. My mom is 60 and doing sms messages in about 15-20 secs.

Also, ironically, the limited amount of characters keeps people short and to the point. It's like back in the days with telegrams. :o)

So in short, it's not a technical wonder; but it is a social service working much like IM's, and much less introsive than phone calls.

Mike said...

I have to agree with you Tom. Text messaging is pretty pointless when you think about it. Everybody I know gets an answering system of some sort with their phones, so the point about answering messages when you want doesn't really stand up. You can do the same with voice.

I found all the web/internet bells and whistles so pointless on my last phone that when I changed to a new carrier, I just ditched the whole web access package. I haven't missed it one bit and I would never pay extra for it again unless something drastically better came along.

Damon Cooper said...

Of course of the great things about using SMS text messaging is that text is machine-readable with some reliablity...voice: ain't so great.

It's secure, it's everywhere, it's near real-time in most cases, and when you couple it with applications, you suddenly get some amazing capabilities you just cannot have any other way.

Here's a few blog posts I made on this topic a while back WRT CFMX7, the SMS Event Gateway and new classes of apps that are now possible and easy to build:


Anonymous said...

I'm an American who pays per minute for my cell phone. I keep it around for the must-do phone calls, I never, ever, ever answer incoming calls on it, and a do txt msgs all the time. My servers send me msgs when things are up, my wife (who also has per-minute plan) sends me msgs all day long, I send msgs when i'm in the middle of an in-person conversation with someone, I send them when I'm napping in bed with my daughter, I send them...

Bottom line, it's all about usage patterns.

Anonymous said...

That might be an understatement. iPhones catch on too.

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