Thursday, September 18, 2014

Death of SMS - 2

It was early 2000s when fresh from college and couple of months into working that I, for the first time, had a cellphone of my own. Of course, the mobile services in Chennai was introduced sometime in the later half of 1995. It were the days when the outgoing calls were charged at Rs. 16 and incoming at Rs. 8!

In fact, SMS was not even part of the initial mobile service. When it was introduced, it was free!

Then as all fairy tales come to an end, I received an SMS from a friend stating that the messaging service was going to be charged and that if we forward that particular message to ten more people it will create a momentum and authorities will continue to keep the messaging service free. Alas, it was not to be true.

The world has changed much, since.

Now very recently, I received a message on Whatsapp that reminded me of the SMS I had received then. It also urged the receiver to forward that message to all those in the address book and when everyone does it hoped Whatsapp will be forced to keep the service free. As you know Whatsapp becomes paid app after a year's free use.

But that is not the interesting part. I wrote about death of SMS almost a year back. Recently, I met my good friend and ex-colleague Karthik DS. Karthik is Vice President at Akamai. While discussing about messaging apps, he told me that he had asked his team members if they used SMS. Out of the 100 odd people that he manages only one answered affirmatively!

Think about it. How many of us actively use the SMS facility? Even if there are many, I am sure the numbers are constantly coming down.

Today in my opinion SMS is largely used for two things.

  1. Signed in updates: For getting important messages from institutions whose service we avail. Banks, airlines, online sites, insurance...Technically, these are one-way communications. Either you send or receive. 
  2. Unsigned spams: Companies that want us to buy plots, computers, phone or Internet connections. 
Even if we receive an SMS from a friend, we are quick to ask or check ourselves if they are available on Whatsapp. We then would most probably shift our conversations there. 

What is changing? Aren't Mobile Operators worried about losing income? Why have we changed the way we message? 

  1. Zero sum game for mobile operators?: Are mobile operators losing revenues, here? First of all, they have already made their money by selling bulk SMS packages to marketers. Even if they are losing revenues from the end user segment, they will make it up in Internet revenues. There was a time when we used to diligently choose an SMS plan. Today, I am not even sure what SMS plan I am in. Probably, I am paying for a service I don't use!
  2. No more Plain Jane messaging: The only interactive feature or the erstwhile SMS was the delivery report option. The new messaging apps have added a lot more zing to messaging. To start with profile pictures, ability to see who is online, group chats, emoticons, ability to send files. It is certainly more fun. 
  3. Opportunity for Skype and Gtalk: Unlike the traditional messaging, Skype and Gtalk have great opportunity to use their existing strengths to leverage this new consumer behavior. Skype, especially. I am not sure why these companies have not been able to leverage this space. Gtalk at least did something by trying to combine SMS and Gtalk into one. I hated it so much that I decided to keep them separate. Skype on the hand is the company that I bet on. They already provide great calling service. What would it take Skype to emulate Whatsapp? It could do wonders to Microsoft. 
  4. Where is the money?: The messaging services like Line, WeChat and Kakao Talk seem to have cracked the code. But Whatsapp which has over 400 million customers has so far not unveiled any plans to commercialize except for the subscription fees. Will customers relent is to be seen. But on the other hand, Facebook after buying the messaging service is now promoting Facebook Messenger, heavily. After resisting the attempts to download a separate Facebook Messenger, I finally caved in last week. But shouldn't it worry Facebook that its users have to move out of its primary social media app and return if required? 
Messaging apps have already made SMS irrelevant. I may be thinking about this a bit too much, but can these messaging apps next kill the voice calls as we know it? Imagine if all of us had Skype, then we will probably Skype and not call. It will be true VoIP, then. We may not need numbers, just account. A bit too much, do you say? 
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