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Apple is About to Kill Text Messaging

by Joshua Auriemma on June 6, 2011

Editor’s note: For two months now I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get the following editorial published under the working title, “Time For Apple to Kill Text Messaging.” Today at WWDC, Apple scooped me and announced a BBM-like app. If done properly, I firmly believe this is the beginning of the end for text messaging. I have included my editorial submission in this article because I think it’s important to understand why we need to get behind this launch and start adopting it as soon as possible. Way to go, Apple.

As of the beginning of this year, 69.5 million people in the United States owned smart phones. Together, Apple and Google smart phones accounted for over half of all smart phones owned by consumers in the United States. In February of 2011, 68.8% of mobile subscribers used text messaging on their phone.

The time has come for the major mobile operating system vendors to put an end to the era of text message price gouging. Several years ago, there was outcry from mobile users regarding the price of text messaging. Some basic math reveals that mobile users pay roughly $1500 per megabyte of text messaging data. A few years ago that may have made sense, but now that many consumers enjoy a data plan on their smart phones where they pay a more reasonable fee of 7.5 cents per megabyte of data, this pricing scheme approaches absurdity — particularly where consumers are being double billed for data at an astronomical mark-up.

We have arrived at an important point in our digital history where some particularly strong vendors are uniquely situated to stand up to the cellular carriers. In the past, Apple may not have had the market power necessary to include text messaging as a feature of the iPhone operating system; but they do now.  As Apple’s market power has grown, it has slowly begun the quiet process of taking power away from the cellular companies. FaceTime is an iOS application that comes preinstalled on the iPhone 4 and allows users to partake in video conferencing. What many people do not realize is that once the software converts the call from a traditional voice call into a FaceTime call, the wireless provider is no longer billing for that time. In other words: the revolution has begun.

An entire industry has already sprung up around the goal of creating the first fully-functional text message replacement app. Research In Motion, creators of the BlackBerry device, introduced a text message replacement feature into their operating system known as BlackBerry Messaging (BBM) several years ago. Having never owned a BlackBerry, I can’t speak to the quality of the service, but the effort should be applauded nonetheless. What I can say that many of my classmates in law school swore by the BBM service. The problem, of course, is that the vast majority of consumers do not own a BlackBerry and can’t take part in BBM discussions — a fact not lost on one hoaxer who recently convinced many credible technology blogs that iOS and Android BBM apps would launch at the end of April. Sadly, Research In Motion denied the claims and put an end to the hope that text messaging will be replaced in the very near future.

Several small developers have created fantastic mobile apps in the hopes of replacing text messaging. Unfortunately, while their products may enjoy some minor financial successes, they will fail in their ultimate goal. FaceTime works because the service revolves around the consumer’s mobile phone number and not some arbitrary username or number generated by a third party. If I have a new contact’s phone number and she is using a device capable of FaceTime, I can initiate a FaceTime call with her without knowing anything else. The killer app for text messaging has to do the same thing. If you give me your phone number, 99% of the time the killer app has to allow me to send you a text message without knowing any additional information. Anything short of that and no matter how well developed and seamlessly integrated the app may be, it won’t replace text messaging.

Only the big boys can compete in this space, and compete they should; for the sake of text-happy consumers everywhere.