Neil Papworth sent Richard Jarvis’s mobile phone the world’s first SMS on Dec. 3, 1992. The very first mobile to mobile text message read “Merry Christmas,” heralding an approaching shift in the standards for human interaction.
By 2012, an estimated 9.6 trillion SMS messages were being transmitted annually. In that same year, 32 percent of respondents in a TIME mobility poll stated that text message is their preferred channel for communication. Yet, despite the stunning numbers and the stated preference, an infinitesimally small percentage of businesses and organizations are leveraging the technology. This disparity, of the medium’s popularity in our personal lives and its relative absence in our professional lives, can be attributed to text messaging’s slow rise in the lightning paced realm of tech innovation.
Meet the Text Message
Millennial teenagers ditched the family phone in favor of AOL Instant Messenger, the world’s first widespread text-first, instantaneous digital communications tool. They spent their adolescence conversing in terse digital statements – punctuated with emoticons and flush with acronyms. By the time text messaging arrived, they needed no inoculation — its qualities were intuitively understood:
- Asynchronous: Text allows communicating without synchronizing schedules.
- Succinct: Character limitations encourages concise statements.
- Logged: Referable records of conversations are automatically stored.
- Accessible: Text messages are more readily accessed than voice messages.
- Silent: Delivery does not require verbal annunciation.
- Intimate: Text is reserved for contacts with a personal connection.
The Tortoise and the Hares
Commercial text messaging, however, is a much more slowly developing phenomenon. It wasn’t until 1999, that messages could be sent between service providers — a significant improvement that was overlooked by a business community entranced with the promises of Web 2.0 and the continuing expansion of computing power.
The business leaders who were looking for mobility had developed an infatuation with BlackBerry. A product whose “push” technology bolstered the false premise that mobile communication would be a replication of desktop communication.
During the BlackBerry era, businesses did make attempts to utilize text messaging. These, however, were essentially email transpositions conducted via short codes. They had the flavor of SPAM and were viewed as rude intrusions that perverted the casual familiarity users expected in their message logs — that spam attitude has led to crackdowns on lacking strategies for commercial texting. As business leaders labored to steady the floundering, a second hare sped to the front of the community’s race towards effective mobile communication.
The iPhone was released in June, 2007. The product’s ensuing popularity catalyzed the market for mobile applications. With each new software iteration, whether iOS or Android, businesses poured cash into revamping their applications in order to incorporate the latest technical capabilities. It was a 21st century Californian gold rush for the emerging industry of mobile-app developers – a rush propagated by the crafty marketing of smartphone producers. Amidst the bonanza, few firms were questioning the value of centering their mobile strategies around an application.
The Devolution of the App
The arch of human innovation will always bend toward simplicity. While complicated functionality may be tolerated at the birth of new platforms, it is expected to be distilled away as the technology matures. The maxim that simplicity sells is evidenced by recent activity in the social media market. Facebook, the multi-featured conglomerate, is losing traffic to a slew of feature specific competitors: Instagram (photo sharing), Twitter (status updates), LinkedIn (networking), Tumblr (blogging), Pinterest (hobbying), and Tinder (dating).
The appeal is in the curated audience, the absence of background noise and the dearth of superfluous features — three aspects exemplified in text messaging.
Why an App Isn’t for That
The more empirical reason for why a business’s mobile communication shouldn’t be exclusive to apps is because their customers’ mobile communications aren’t exclusive to apps.
In fact, although 91 percent of Americans own a cell phone, only 56 percent of American adults own one capable of even downloading an app, according to 2012 research from Pew.
That base is further diluted if the business opts for a single platform – 28 percent for Android and 25 percent for Apple. Thus, all iPhone apps are inaccessible to three out of every four Americans, and even with an expensive dual platform strategy nearly half of mobile consumers would not be able to access the app. If a business’s intent is to communicate with the broadest mobile audience possible, apps are not the proper medium.
The Potential Market
As adaptive organizations in a wide spectrum of industries begin to realize the potential in text messaging, an impressive array of use-cases have been developed. Guests text their concierge, fares text their livery service, consumers text their manufacturer, clients text their salon, members text their gym, parents text their school system, travelers text their airline, the insured text their insurer, customers text their store, and citizens text town hall. These are just samplings of the latent potential in text messaging.
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