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Is it time to ditch text messaging?

Chat_icon The world is now more connected than it has ever been before.

Thanks to new technology, people can exchange information very quickly. Two popular forms of electronic communication are email and text messaging. Text messaging is the "newer" technology of the two, but email is obviously still widely used. Although text messaging is newer than email, text messages are restricted by past requirements and since email has continued to evolve, it offers a much better alternative on current mobile devices.

Is it time to ditch text messaging for good?

First, a brief history lesson.

Text, or SMS messaging, was first used in 1992. The first text was not actually sent from a mobile device, but from a desktop computer to a Vodaphone mobile device. What makes SMS technology unique is that it was built to transmit data over 1990's cellular networks. At that point in time, mobile networks were just beginning to expand, but they were still quite weak. Technology did not yet exist to send large amounts of data over them. In fact, when text messaging was introduced, users could only send 140 bytes, or 160 letters, in a text.  

Because of this limit, text messages were originally meant to be used as a substitute when a voice call was not possible, but people soon began to adopt them as a primary means of communication. Thus, text messaging continued to grow and is now the most widely used mobile service in the world other than voice calling.  In some countries, there are almost 30 texts for each person every day!

In 1961, when the Internet was first being developed, electronic messaging, or email, was also introduced. Email was created as a means of communication between users of a single mainframe. Although email has changed greatly since then, the main idea remains the same. A user of email can send a file to another user, identified with an email address. This file travels to the server or mainframe of the other user, where it can be accessed and read. Today, almost everyone with an Internet connection has an email address, and it is one of the most popular forms of private online communication.

As mobile data networks grew stronger, texting continued to evolve. Protocols such as MMS were added to the SMS protocol, allowing things such as images and videos to be transmitted along with text. This helped text messaging to become a more modern form of communication, but because it was still based on the old SMS protocol, users were and still are limited in what they can do. For example, users are still restricted by size limits and can only send small photos and videos.

Because text messaging is limited by these old protocols designed for technologically ancient networks, I think it has reached a limit in its evolution and therefore remains quite confining to its users.

In a manner similar to that of texting, email also had to evolve with its technology, but it was able to keep up much better. As the Internet quickly evolved and became stronger, so did email. And because of the way email works, it can easily grow and adapt to faster networks. The idea can stay the same, sending a file to another server, while the technology advances. For example, you can now use multiple protocols for email. This adaptability allowed email to grow and become quite complex. Not only does email lack a character limit, but you can also include HTML in an email, which allows for rich text formatting, image embedding, and more.

You can also attach much larger, better quality images and videos in an email. Even though there is currently still a limit on attachment size, it will rise steadily as the Internet expands. Thus, unlike texting, email will continue to grow and become a richer option for transmitting information.

If email is so much better than texting, then why do people continue to use it?

Because they’re used to it. In the past, you had to use texting on mobile devices because it was the best you could get. Mobile networks could not handle the complexity that makes email more powerful.

Now, networks have evolved while people have not. Today’s networks can easily handle most emails, yet people continue to use text messaging. Some feel it is more instant than email, while others simply don't seem to realize that there are better alternatives. Push email, for example, can be as instant as texting on mobile devices. 

So email matches the instant nature of texts and also offers a better medium for delivering information. From its complex text formatting to its support of numerous attachments, email has many more features and abilities than text messaging. And since mobile networks, the only thing limiting email’s usefulness on mobile devices, are ready, it only makes sense to drop texting altogether and begin using email as the primary form of communication (other than voice) on mobile devices.

What do you think?

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Aaron Orquia

Aaron Orquia is an associate editor at Pocketables. He has been using Android and Linux since he bought his first computer years ago, and his interest in technology, software, and tweaking both to work just right has only grown stronger since then. His current gadgets include a OnePlus One, a Pebble smartwatch, and an Acer C720 Chromebook.

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36 thoughts on “Is it time to ditch text messaging?

  • Due to the nature of SMS technology it offers a number of benefits over email.

    Firstly it works on any phone. You don’t need an iPhone to use SMS

    It can work even when you can’t get a signal strong enough to make a voice call or a data connection. Remember the world still has huge black holes even in developed countries when it comes to data connectivity.

    It’s instant. An email delivery is considered successful if delivered within 72 hours. It is far from an instant technology (although we have got used to emailed arriving within a few seconds)

    It’s very very simple and very very quick to use. And for the kids that use it, it’s cheap.

    It’s also worth mentioning that the US was very very late in adopting SMS so it’s use is much more popular in countries with more mature cellular networks.

    Don’t rule out SMS just yet

    Reply
  • Perhaps it should read ” a better alternative for day to day communication.” I agree that text messaging still has its advantages in low bandwidth areas, although I dont agree that its cheap, at least in the us. Text messaging plans and overcharges are one of the biggest ripoffs carriers have to offer.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Bruno

    In the US / Canada, perhaps. In a lot of countries (much of Europe included) unlimited text messages come for free with many plans, both monthly and pay-as-you-go.

    Reply
  • In a third-world country (I am), depending on the carriers, you can get like 1000 or 5000 free text messages after sending like 3 or 5 paid ones. I’d say locally here out of 10 people maybe 1 or 2 have e-mails while 3 or 4 have access to simple mobile phones, which means access to text messages. So, it is still a long time, at least locally, for ditching text messages.

    Reply
  • Also, at this point almost any phone will support email, even the cheapest phones, and even if they strip out most of the features, at least there is no limit to message length. I think speed is text’s last real advantage.

    Reply
  • I never sent or had a need to send a text (sms) message. So for me the answer is hell yes. And If you are wondering, I am tech savvy (IT/web career for over a decade and compensated lovely).

    Reply
  • Avatar of jp99

    I wouldn’t ditch SMS at all. I view communication with differing levels of escalation:

    Voice call: immediate need and response
    SMS: 2 to 20 min reply
    Email: 30 min to days later reply

    SMS fits well between a phone call and an email.

    Reply
  • Aaron read these words and read them carefully as long as there are teenage girls in this world texting will never die!

    Reply
  • Avatar of JohnC

    SMS provides a very useful way of ‘flashing’ urgent information to anybody with almost any mobile phone. e-mail is not as reliable for this purpose in my experience. Sometimes I have to send an SMS to alert somebody to read their e-mail! I get an SMS in return saying they’ve received the SMS and I’ve then done everything I can.

    However, it does have limitations. I’m very surprised that an ‘SMS 2.0’ hasn’t been developed to allow longer messages and hyperlinks given the capabilities of modern mobile phone networks.

    Reply
  • Perhaps youre right and email isnt the solution either, and we now need SMS 2.0.

    Reply
  • This article was obviously written by a telecom executive. Push email costs $15 – $30 per month extra. SMS is $5 per 450 messages (typically more than enough).

    Reply
  • Push email is usually included with data plans in the us, and an unlimited texting plan runs about $15 in my eperiance.
    Also, I am not a Telecom executive.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    Though SMS is newer invention, it was used by mainstream before email was, if we look at things from an international perceptive and not just from a NA perspective. While I did do “e-mails” over BBS’ in the late 80’s (1988 or so) I did SMS’ daily from early nineties but not daily emails before mid 90’s. Naturally it took a decade or so before SMS became mainstream in NA.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    Support email is not the whole story there is also the part about the data/email service, and filters involved (be it spam or other censorship if you want) that makes email so much more complex and less reliable. Since you are talking “at this point” (hence current/new phones) then one could also claim that there is no message length limitation to SMS either. While it does create additional cost (depending upon your billing setup) most phones now can handle multiple SMS’ as one long one both for both the sending as well as the receiving phone.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    Well one should not compare any of this to the US, because *ALL* internet activity is being overcharged in the US due to the fact that the INCs did not invest what they should have some years ago in order to keep up with demand, so now we are stuck with overcharges, data caps, and the “5GB unlimited limits”. Don’t blame the technology for greedy corporate actions (or rather lack of actions!). Worldwide in most locations you do NOT pay for incoming SMS’ (nor incoming calls). Yet the flip side of this is that an unlimited (usually “truly” unlimited) SMS packages are not that expensive in the US, if one really needs & uses it. I have had unlimited SMS packages on all of our phones now for the past decade, never had any overcharges on SMS. Though I must point out that these “unlimited” are not 100% unlimited in the sense that they do NOT cover international SMS’, like they do in most of the world. In most locations you do not get billed differently for a domestic vs. international SMS.

    Again though, please do NOT look at the US carriers and think they have much in common with their international counterparts, in most of Europe you can get true 3G speeds at roughly 50% of the cost of a so called 3G (or even “4G”) data packages in the US, and I say “true” because only the fastest results on “4G” in the US is comparable to the “everyday” 3G speeds of Europe. Again due to the fact that the networks have been updated there to be able to handle the traffic load (unlike in the US). I just had AT&T come to my door this past week informing me about them putting in fiber optics, now in 2011!? This was implemented in many European locations in the late 90’s!

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    Most of my SMS communications since the early 90’s have most definitely been much quicker than any voice call could’ve been. Dialing a number (or even pulling it up from the address book) would take about as many clicks as a short message. Phone calls are also a lot more intrusive, “demanding” you to “answer” now, while an SMS allows you to reply when you (the receiver) has the ability (or chose) to.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    I just a good laugh at comments like this..

    “I never sent or had a need to send a text (sms) message…..If you are wondering, I am tech savvy”.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    North American understanding of SMS!
    Go out and travel a bit in the BIG WORLD, and notice how even retired people communicate with each other, and utilize commonly available services over SMS.

    There is another 95% of humans outside North America :)

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    Do you people not even use SMS!? Combining multiple SMS’ to one long SMS (or so it looks to both sender and receiver!) has been in use on most phones for YEARS now!? So long that I don’t even recall when it started!?

    Reply
  • that is more of a workatound than a real solution, and the text limit is not the only problem with SMS.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    But your “eperiance” is based on information relevant to less than 5% of the world’s population. So…

    Reply
  • I have a good laugh at you because you are wasting your time attempting to change peoples minds on the internet… Thats almost never going to happen, even if you have the best argument ever.

    Reply
  • The point is not about who uses SMS and who doesn’t. Its about weather SMS can be replaced by other technologies.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    My father for instance is of the generation where he has NEVER used a computer keyboard or mouse (aside from an ATM machine or the alike automated machines).

    Yet for the past two decades I have been in regular contact with him over SMS. He has been retired now for about a decade, and yet he is very active in sending SMS’ and this without any qwerty setup, not only to me but to a number of other people.

    In fact he despises computers (since he’s not familiar with them).

    It just angers me when there is such ignorance out there that believes that SMS usage is mainly used by teenage girls. NOT the case, my father is grandfather (and soon to be great-grandfather) to “teenage girls”. So please open your eyes and don’t stare yourself blind at a North American (way behind) implementation of how technology is used.

    “The Eurovision Song Contest organized the first pan-European SMS voting in 2002” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Text_messaging

    SMS elections have also been commonplace in various local and national level elections since the early 2000’s

    Reply
  • I realize SMS is utilized by many people, but thats still not the point. The point is it may be time for those people to move to a different technology.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    I think you have totally missed the point. I am not trying to change anyone’s opinions (minds), it just bothers me (and I am not alone, many laugh and don’t speak up and you just don’t know about it :)) when there is total ignorance out there as to what is going on out there.

    These are not “arguments” they are FACTS :)

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    “weather SMS”

    Yes you can get WEATHER info over SMS too :)

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    Not sure what a “workatound” is? :)

    Concatenated SMS is automated with no special action or steps required by the sender nor the receiver.

    Nothing different than your phone enabling you to call “Aaron..” by typing in “Aar..” and not the phone number associated with that person. :)

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    Once there comes along some technology that actually proves to be more foolproof, faster, cheaper, and cross platform and cross border compatible I am sure there will be. In fact

    Twitter that has a lot to do with SMS (and can attribute a lot of it’s success to the existence of SMS) is and has replace(ing/d) SMS to some extent.

    The fact that people can essentially post to the web without any web access through SMS through Twitter is a huge “selling point” for twitter.

    One thing one needs to take into account with all this is that there is an enormously big difference in many places as to the coverage of a voice mobile service vs data service, especially true in the US of A!

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    It makes me laugh because the statement is an oxymoron statement. Using SMS is not something a tech savvy person would know or not know (like say programing in a specific language) it would be SECOND NATURE to someone that is truly into technology.

    It would be as natural as it is typing on a keyboard, as it is part of modern communication. The fact that someone choose not indulge in it just like one person prefers an OS over the other is a personal choice, but obviously has no bearing on whether the technology discussed is an appropriate tool or not.

    If you only knew how FAR BEHIND North America is (unfortunately so, I am no here only to criticize that fact but I share in the pain of it!) when it comes to technology and pricing for such, it is SO SO sad, and the ignorance around it is even worse. Since the first step to addressing any “problem” is acknowledging that there *IS* a problem, and there are SERIOUS problems with DATA communication speeds, pricing and availability in the US currently.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mobileer

    You are comparing apples and oranges here, email and SMS were never designed to compete or to replace each other. They are very different forms of communication for very different situations and circumstances.

    Once you have an all covering data network such as you have in some countries for voice (and data) then this question can be raised again but that’s another decade or two away if not more. So until then…

    Reply
  • Avatar of john martin

    A few fortune 500 companies use sms and e-mail. What is the matter with people I have an e-mail address on my blackberry my company uses sms for informal messages e-mail is usually offical only. As discussed text is universal on almost every phone. my teenage son uses nothing but sms. THE AUTHOR OF THE ARTICLE IS SOMWHAT OUT OF THE MAINSTREAM

    Reply
  • Avatar of Robert Lichota

    I tried to teach my parents in 70’s to use email and failed. Sms is as far as they will go.

    Reply

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