In the beginning there was the word. Then some bright spark came up with a way to send a few of them at a time over a mobile network (making me hurl my first GSM phone across a room in fear at the incredibly loud text alert) and we’ve been stuck with the technology ever since, with the networks showing no sign of letting go. And lets face it, why would they when SMS is such a profitable service for them to provide? The way text messages are sent via the networks every penny they charge you is profit to them, and they cost so little per message that most consumers never once think about switching to better messaging services. Win-Win, right? Wrong…
Why The Networks Wont Let Go Of Text Messaging
It all comes down to simple maths really. On a regular UK network (the first country to embrace text messaging) a text message costs 10p and data comes in at approximately 20 megabytes for £5.00. That means that someone can send 50 text messages (probably a couple of hundred if they buy a bundle) for the same price that they can buy 20 megabytes of data. Most consumers will opt for the text messages as they view that as something they’ll use more than data. Now lets really look at the maths. 20 megabytes is 20,000,000 (twenty million) bytes. A text message is about 180 bytes including the phone number. Sending text messages as pure data would mean that you’d be able to send 111,111 text messages (more than most have sent in a lifetime) within the 20 megabyte data allowance for £5, instead of the £11,111.10p it would cost at 10p per message. As you can see, text messaging is the more profitable solution for the networks and, as I mentioned earlier, the way the networks have set it up it’s all profit for them.
The Solution And How It Was Sabotaged
If people switched to a purely data based form of communication it’s obvious that they’d save money, as well as having more ways to communicate. A specification was put forward for an on-device e-mail address that mimics i-mode’s, tied to your phone number. People would be able to send rich content (including but not limited to photos, audio and video files) to other device owners as well as desktop e-mail addresses. It was a genius idea and proposed as part of the evolution of second generation handsets to GPRS data solutions. Handset manufacturers spoke with networks and they all agreed between them that this messaging structure would be priced according to the data used.
Unfortunately for MMS (the technology I mentioned last paragraph) the networks lied and, in 2002 when UK first networks introduced it, MMS messages had a standard charge set up that was approximately three times the cost of a text message, and the networks set limitations on how much data could be sent at a time, with some of them even limiting the sorts of data that could be sent. MMS died the very quiet death of a technology that never got used and, while MMS functionality is still included in most modern handsets, it’s the Betamax of mobile technology. Yes the price has gone down now and the functionality has increased over the years but it still hasn’t reached the original idea behind it and, with the rise of handsets able to give a full desktop e-mail experience, it has pretty much breathed it’s last breath before it ever got going.
So e-mail is the future then? Not quite. E-mail is the current standard for mobile messaging (the most used technology by early adopters) as it allows communication with all manner of people regardless of whether their device is mobile or a desktop computer. Other solutions that boast the same interoperabilty are instant messaging, micro-blogging and forum/chat sites. All of these technologies are in use by diferent levels of people who communicate in different ways. The future lies in a combination of these technologies.
The Future Of Messaging
What I am proposing isn’t just the future of mobile messaging but the future of all messaging. A technology so rich, so powerful and so easy to use that it will change the way we think about communication forever, no matter the device. A data based technology that’s rich in the content types it supports and optimised for slower desktop and mobile connections. It has to be something like this in order to stop the networks dragging every last penny they can out of us for text messages.
The technology would mix the best parts of chat rooms, instant messaging, e-mail and micro-blogging into one powerful solution. Multi-person messaging would easily be enabled with new users being able to be invited into the message exchange and view all past contributions from all parties (with the option of privately messaging someone within the conversation stream). Rich media could easily be added into the messages by uploading from the device or linking to web content which would be streamed in. Images and richer media would first be loaded as thumbnails and then loaded within the stream depending on each users settings.
As an example Bob and John are arranging a night out and open a conversation stream with each other, one of them on a PC and the other on a mobile device. Bob suggests a place and John links to a review of the place, with the entire review being loaded into the stream for both to read. John invites Dave in for his opinion and, after reading the review, Dave agrees that it’s not the best choice. Dave then suggests a new place but Bob and John have never heard of it so Dave enters the address and the stream gets a mini-map of the place added to it. John remembers going there before and hearing a new band that he liked but can’t remember the name of. He hums what he remembers of one of the tunes and uploads it to see if anyone else knows it. Bob listens then links a video on Youtube which gets added to the stream. The conversation goes back and forth with more people being invited in and adding their contributions, as John, Bob and Dave share a game of the built-in Texas Hold ‘Em game, the screen showing only their own cards and the flop. When Jack arrives he catches up with what has happened so far then says that he’s up for anything tonight. Three privately messages arrive in the stream directed at Jack and he finds two photos and one video of his friends mooning him.
The Future Is Now
I had a whole new paragraph to end this post, all about how the networks aren’t going to let go of text messaging while there’s so much money in it and how it’s going to take a lot for the change to start. While I was gathering images to illustrate this post I stumbled across something gathering momentum on the web at the moment and I decided to pull attention to that instead. Google Wave is pretty much the future messaging technology that I just described to you and it goes live on September 30th.
The technology is almost the same as I described above and, as Google has started it’s movement into the mobile world with Android, there’s already a way for them to start mobile testing on this. I predict that Google Wave or a similar technology will one day become the on device messaging standard that we all use, as well as the desktop standard for messaging, truly bringing mobile devices and desktop computers even closer.