Mobile instant messaging apps have overtaken SMS for the first time, new research suggests, marking a likely end of the text message cash-cow for operators. Nearly 19bn IM chat messages were sent every day in 2012 on average, according to research firm Informa, in comparison to 17.6bn traditional text messages, with analysts claiming some carriers are already "seeing a decline in their messaging revenues."
Services like Apple's iMessage and popular third-party title WhatsApp have become widespread, routing chat messages over the data network rather than using SMS or MMS. That usually means far lower cost, with basic text using tiny amounts of data versus the inflated per-message charge that SMS currently demands.
The simplicity and spread of IM, particularly on smartphones, will see SMS continue to lose pace in comparison to its cheaper counterpart. By 2014, Informa predicts, nearly 50bn IM messages will be sent every day; in contrast, the research firm expects around 21bn SMS to be sent daily in the same period.
Nonetheless, despite the rise of IM applications, Informa still sees a role for SMS, if only in developing markets where smartphone penetration is less advanced. For those with low-cost devices that lack either stable data connections or any app support whatsoever, traditional text messages may still present the best approach for non-voice communication.