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« So Steve Yzerman is coming out of retirement? No, an SMS glitch | Main | Nokia launches Nokia Media Network for mobile advertising »

September 16, 2008



A great and positive post!

This certainly sets the scene for the Future of Mobile Event on 17th November where we are both speaking:

I look forward to yet again sharing a stage with you and maybe one or two single malts afterward as usual ;)

Mobile Hype


Nice post - You have been talking over the time a lot about SMS? Do you see long term tactics and services ever takin over SMS?

I feel that SMS is nice but slightly an old method of communicating... when visualizing the mobile communication for the next 5 years. Surely SMS is big and will evidentially play a big role but is it an effective and engaging method?

Money and fast earnings speak…

Br. Vesa

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi iMac and Vesa

Thanks for the comments

iMac - yeah, we're on for November in London and the first single malt whisky is on me. See you there!

Vesa - great question. Very long and complex answer... I discussed SMS in a chapter in the new book, so literally I could give you fifteen pages on it straight from the top of my head.

Let me try to be brief.

First, SMS is not the ultimate communication nor the perfect communciation. We have many means - right now, me posting a commment here for you, is "better" than SMS because it leaves a trail onto the blog, that others can read the same communication from Tomi without forcing me to resend an SMS (and incur another charge). We will continue to have voice calls - there is much in that voice call emotion that is beneficial in communication (or at times deliberately avoided by using SMS, such as the increasing popularity of breaking up relationships via SMS.. to avoid the personal emotion in the voice call). Instant messaging is another way with its benefits, and email has its own benefits. I would not start a new discussion of a consulting job with a prospective customer via SMS, I'd do that via email, and send some attachments, etc..

With all that, SMS is a superior communication method on several dimenisions. It is not perfect, but on some matters, it is better. Speed. SMS is by far the fastest way to deliver communications. Faster than email, faster than voicemail, faster even than a call directly to the other person's mobile phone. This last point seems counter-intuitive, but when you examine all communication situations, under ideal situations a voice call from mobile phone to mobile phone can be marginally faster than an SMS, by no more than 30 seconds. But under most communication situations, SMS is faster by many minutes, even hours, sometimes days. If the other person is stuck in a situation where he/she cannot talk - ie in a meeting, in the theater, eating dinner, in class, whatever - you can always have your SMS go through. And the earliest moment the person can read the message, it is read, which is often before the person could even consider returnign a call. And in many cases the person can reply on the spot (via SMS) even though a call is still not possible. Half of British teenagers admit to sending SMS text messages from the dinner table..

The speed benefit of SMS will not diminsh. More "rich" communcation methods like MMS picture messaging or say videocalls, will not provide faster speed, in fact they often are slower in speed.

The second benefit is secrecy. A voice call on a mobile phone is very exposed and public, think of any time in the bus or train or restaurant when someone is yapping on a phone. SMS is totally private. Far more private than email, on a tiny screen nobody else can snoop into while you write, and the SMS is not stored on central servers by employers (or parents in families) to go and read your communications.

The secrecy element of SMS is not going away, and it is what kids love about SMS. But busy execs learn to love it too. They might share a cab with a competitor, and be unable to call the office to talk about the important customer, but can safely tap off SMS messages about it without ever revealing anything to the rival sitting right next to them in the cab. I've done this countless times ha-ha..

The third benefit is the asymmetrical nature of the communcation. This is not unique to SMS, we have it in email for example, but not in voice calls. So it means, that I send a question to you, and you don't have to reply this second. You can respond in the next five minutes, and it is perfectly fine to me. Can we postpone tomorrow's lunch meeting to drinks after work? Previously this was a phone call. And it meant a lot of voicemail ping-pong to get you on the line, and me back on line, and then I'm on hold, and you finish your call, and then whatever, eventually we discuss tomorrow's schedule. And in the worst case, you're not at your calendar, and have to call me back, etc. But one SMS. Then you consider at your end, go to your calendar, and five minutes later I have my reply.

That is part of what is appealing about email vs voice calls to many. But it is definitely part of the appeal of SMS. And its not going away.

So with that, I think SMS is here to stay. It has been proven to be addictive, so the 2.7 billion poeple who already use it, will never stop using something at least as satisfying as SMS. Like a drug addiction, the only remedy is a more powerful drug, so perhaps an even better communciation method will come along.

When enough of the population is on IM on phones, that could be the "harder drug". but today this is not yet even on the horizon, as only under 10% of moblie phone users are on mobile IM. And internet based IM is no substitute to SMS, it is only a cost-saving means and only partially suitable, when the other person also sits at his or her PC, say when playing multiplayer games etc..

I hope this was a quick view. It is not the ultimate end-state of communications, other ways have lots of benefits and will continue (I've been saying the only communciation really threatened by SMS is voicemail ha-ha). But I'm also expecting better means to appear over time, so am always curious to see what is coming..

Thank you both for writing

Tomi Ahonen :-)

Giff Gfroerer i2SMS

Yes, Tomi, SMS continues to grow in the states, yet what would appear to still be 3 years behind the rest of the world in adoption. However, the importance of SMS as a touchpoint in multi-modal communication programs is gaining traction.

To add to your numbers, for the United States, it is now being reported by Nielsen that as many as one in five U.S. telephone owning households are wireless only, abandoning the landline all together and the number could reach 20 million by years end.

And in another recent study by Knowledge Networks, it is reported that American mobile subscribers between the ages of 13 and 29 send an average of 20 text messages each day, compared to just two texts daily for consumers aged 30 to 43 and only one for users aged 44 to 64. However, excellent to see the younger group and exciting to see the 30 to 43 age group averaging two a day finally.

Great post.


Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Giff

Great comments and stats. Actually, the 3 year gap is still closing, ie the USA is moving much faster than the average of the industrialized world, and the gap now seems more like 2 years.

For example that household substition from fixed to mobile. Like most mobile stats, that was first observed in Finland, and among industrialized countries, Finland still leads (61% of households have abandoned landline, according to EU data from June 2008). But, the European average is 24%. As the USA is nearing 20%, that means the USA (on this measure) is almost reached parity with average European countries.

And yes, the American SMS usage is growing far faster than the rest of the world (because they had that unmet need for so long). American national texting phenomena like American Idol and Barack Obama's VP choice, have also acted as catalysts for SMS adoption.

There was a stat - hold on, I'll try to find it - yes found it: it was by Survey Amplitude Research, in July 2008, which said that when Americans buy new phones, the number one requirement is no longer the camera, it is SMS ability... SMS is asked for by 73% of buyers, camera only 67% and email 63% and internet 61%.. This is yet another indication that SMS has broken through in America and is now speeding at breathtaking rate to the hearts and souls of Americans....

Incidentially, RIM's Blackberry series is well poised to capitalize on this wave. In Europe I hear through the grapevine that the second largest customer group of new Blackberry buyers (after corporate buyers) is youth, as it is so good at SMS text messaging entry. The youth never even enable the email, they only use the device as a texting device. This is partly why there is a big discrepancy with total Blackberries sold, and the total Blackberry email accounts enabled.

But yes, great posting and great data. Thanks for stopping by Giff.

Tomi :-)

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