SMS just celebrated its 25th birthday.
Today, globally we send around 96 billion text messages each year. From arranging appointments, facilitating relationships and formulating plans, the SMS or text message has had a huge impact on the way people communicate with one another.
December marked the 25th year of SMS communication. In a world where technology is accelerating, we take a look back at the past, consider the present and predict the future of the text message.
The first ever SMS message was sent on the 3rd December 1992 from a desktop computer by Neil Papworth who was an engineer at Vodafone – it simply read ‘Merry Christmas’. At the time, it was impossible for Papworth to gain a response. Handsets could only receive messages, rather than send them, and so it wasn’t until 1993 – when Nokia developed an SMS supported handset – that text messaging could be used to communicate between one another.
By 1999, text messaging really took off. By this time, mobile phones with QWERTY keyboards had been introduced and operators started to allow users to send texts to people on different networks, facilitating cross-network compatibility. At this point came network charges, although the general public could not be deterred.
With a restrictive 160-characters at play, text language (or ‘txt spk’) was quickly adapted and evolved amongst users, keen to communicate as much as possible in one single SMS.
So influential, impactful and critical to human communication, Twitter later adopted a similar character restriction of 140 characters onto its platform, before more recently expanding the service capabilities to cater for additional text.
In 2007, Apple released the first iPhone which propelled smartphones into the market, but it was also the year that SMS became the most successful communication platform of all time with more people sending text messages than making phone calls. In fact, 2007 saw 66 billion text messages sent that year in the UK alone.
In 2012 smartphones were transforming the way people lived and the number of people sending text messages peaked. By 2012, people were sending 151 billion text messages a year, though year on year figures have displayed a drop each year since.
Today, consumers are showing signs of favouring instant messaging apps, including iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. In fact, WhatsApp in 2015 saw 30 billion messages sent globally across its platform daily compared to 20 million text messages. In 2017, this figure increased to one billion WhatsApp users sending 55 billion messages per day.
Across business, there remains a place for the text message. Heavily used by the NHS to confirm appointments, by local authorities to arrange visits and for entrepreneurs to discuss business opportunities, the SMS remains a useful and important tool for people to send and receive information where instant messaging isn’t appropriate.
With internet based applications becoming easier to use and promoted strongly in line with the latest smartphones, there remains a place for the humble text message. It was the first technology to surpass traditional phone calls or in-person meetings, changing the way we choose to communicate.
Whilst in apparent decline for the first time in its history, ‘texting’ remains a popular and heavily relied upon service, albeit in the guise of instant messenger and social networking sites!