Mobile phone carriers profit enormously from our obsession with text messages but it appears the gravy train is slipping off the tracks.
A new study from Informa indicates that chat apps, like WhatsApp, iMessage and KakoaTalk, have surpassed SMS in usage terms -- and since those apps use a phone's data plan, they allow consumers to skirt text message fees.
Specifically, we sent nearly 19 billion messages over chat apps vs. 17.6 billion SMS messages. By 2014, the gulf will widen: we'll send 50 billion chat app messages and only 21 billion text messages, according to Informa.
But before you dance over the grave of your mobile carrier, David Meyer offers some important caveats:
According to Informa analyst Pamela Clark-Dickson, there were 3.5 billion SMS users in 2012. Regarding the chat apps, Clark-Dickson only took 6 into account, namely WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger, Viber, Nimbuzz, Apple's iMessage and KakaoTalk. At the end of 2012, she said, there were 586.3 million users of these platforms, but that's not taking into account other giants such as Facebook Messenger for Android (somewhere between 100-500 million installations) and China's TenCent (around 300 million users).
Even if there were, let's say, a billion chat app users, the disparity between message volume and user numbers shows that people who use these "over-the-top" (OTT) apps use them more frequently than those who use SMS - specifically, the average OTT app user sends 32.6 messages a day, and the average SMS user just 5 texts. This stands to reason because OTT apps are generally free to use, so we should therefore be wary of assuming that every OTT message represents a "lost" SMS from a revenue perspective, in much the same way as it's illogical to claim that a free "pirated" song download represents a lost sale.