In a recent piece of analysis, the WSJ announced: ‘Carriers Sweat as Texting Cools Off'. It's referring to the launch of iMessage, the iOS facility for instant messaging between iOS devices over data networks, which has been compared to the BBM facility on BlackBerry.
The worry worry for operators, or carriers as they're called in the US, is the precedent set by smartphone platforms increasingly allowing users to communicate via instant messaging. This is set to replace good-old text messaging, which is a nice source of revenue for operators and much higher margin than voice.
The WSJ piece even reveals that Google has been working on a similar service for Android, although that hardly comes as a surprise, both as a matter of strategic inevitability and given the activity around Google Talk and IM on Gmail. Nonetheless, it serves as a further indicator of the inevitability of written communications over data networks supplanting texting.
But my feeling is that this has been on the cards for some time, so Apple's announcement surely can't have caught operators unawares. Furthermore the traffic is merely switching from voice to data networks, which the operators also own, so while the margins may not be so great, it's not like they're being cut out of the picture.
Having received some scary mobile phone bills as I exceeded by data allowance by miles, despite being connected to Wi-Fi most of the time, I've learnt to switch off my mobile data connection at all times except when I'm out and about. In fact it's easy to believe that many apps are designed to favour mobile data over Wi-Fi.
I was in town recently and thus activated my 3G, but still kept an eye on my data usage. I was struck by the amount of data being used by predominantly background tasks, and I've tried to be quite diligent about keeping my app count under control. It strikes me that any use-cases that encourage people to use mobile data not only produce revenue for operators directly, but inevitably result in greater mobile data consumption in general.
There are a ton of apps out there that allow people to communicate via data networks, and they all have their pros and cons. With services like BBM and iMessage users can only communicate with people on the same platform. With apps such as CloudTalk, the person you want to communicate with needs to have the app installed too.
SMS is platform and app agnostic, and remains the most efficient way for many people to exchange short messages. Even if its popularity is starting to decline, I suspect there are few people prepared to opt out of being able to use SMS in order to shave a quid or two off their monthly tariff. Texting may be in terminal decline, but that decline is shallow and gives operators plenty of time to develop alternative revenue streams via their expensive mobile data networks.