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Operator Innovation: Let me access my SMS everywhere?

Hello dear reader, it’s me again with another Operator Innovation post.

The series has been terrifically well received — thank you once more to all the executives from around the industry who’ve complemented us. And hello to the chaps from o2 Innovation who, almost every week, point out that they’re working on something very similar. I do hope this is the case — o2 is historically well regarded for innovation. Do you remember Genie Mobile? Utterly fantastic. In recent years, the company’s BlueVia development team has been leading the charge for developer access to operator APIs. So I’m expecting good things from the o2 Innovation team.

Before we get started, I need to deliver a tip-of-the-hat to the team at Orange who pulled the Film To Go service out of the bag this week. Very good indeed. (Find out why I think it’s rather smart.)

Right, let’s get started.

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Last week I wrote about wanting one number for all my calls both incoming and outgoing. Right now I have five smartphones on my desk, all ‘live’ and active. Managing their various identities is quite a challenge.

When it comes to SMS, though, it’s even more of a minefield.

I can redirect my calls to one voicemail system, or one follow-me number. There are plenty of shit-but-good possibilities with voice.

But SMS?

It’s a total fracking nightmare.

SMS is still the king — and I do mean king. Even in today’s app economy, SMS still has a priority. It’s still the medium that we all fall-back to, isn’t it? You can arse around with Facebook Chat, Google+ Huddles and even email, but when it comes to needing to get a message to someone, beyond making a voice call, you have to use SMS.

This is because SMS breaks through.

It interrupts.

It’s real-time.

We all have confidence in it’s delivery (despite the fact the operators still cannot assure delivery to anywhere near a decent service level).

It’s built directly into the operating system of every single device.

It works the same on every phone. There is ALWAYS an inbox. There is always some kind of alerting function built in.

It’s international. There is universal compatibility whether you’re in Timbuktu, the Maldives or London.

As Apple are fond of saying, it just works.

And the 160 character limit is not a problem. Again, most devices support multiple-message length transmissions.

(BBM, because of it’s lack of cross platform support, simply doesn’t cut it unless you KNOW the other person has a BlackBerry).

So what’s the problem?

Well, first of all, if you have two or more devices, managing your SMS messages is a flipping-fracking-flucking nightmare. It’s simply impossible. I have come across one or two ‘forwarding’ apps that you can install — they’ll then forward any messages received to you. But this completely screws the return path functionality. You can GET the message, but you can’t easily reply to it. And even if I have forwarded all SMS from my BlackBerry to my iPhone, when I reply, I’m going to get tons of ‘Who is this?’ messages in return, because of the different phone number.

Rubbish.

It’s not just about the users with multiple devices though.

Even if you just have one phone, the ability to be able to archive, review, reply and create text messages from your desktop, iPad, iPod Touch, laptop or browser, would be really, really smart. Sometimes I just don’t want to write stuff on my actual phone.

Archive my SMS in Google?
Why can’t you copy every SMS that I receive into Google and attach an ‘SMS’ tag to it? This is precisely what Hullomail does. They send you a copy of every voicemail you’ve ever received. Your voicemail is actually stored IN your Gmail. It’s fantastically useful. It certainly doesn’t have to be Google, but I’d go so far as to suggest that if you’re a multi-geography operator, it’s highly likely that Google would do the development for you as long as you assign them one bod to help with the integration. Likewise I suspect Yahoo would be delighted to offer true SMS integration into their email client as a bonus.

07769658104@vodafone.net
And whatever happened to the ability to send a text via an email? I know some operators still offer this. But why was this facility switched off for so many? I loved this. It was a quick way of getting 160 characters to someone’s phone via the medium of email. Some bright spark decided that it might cannibalise revenues, eh? Idiots. Utter idiots. Don’t worry. They’ve probably either left the company or been promoted to CEO. So it’s worth a look again. I do know that lots of operators have moved to offering the facility via MMS. But.. eww, it’s just so badly implemented.

Real-time device SMS Synchronisation, anyone?
Indeed, if you’ve got a moment and a few million quid of development money, I’d like my SMS messages to be synched across all my devices. Why isn’t this possible? Why hasn’t it been done? Come on!

SMS from the desktop
I want to be able to SMS from my desktop. One bright spark has actually made this work for you if you’re an o2 customer. You can text from your phone’s number using Text Deck Pro on the Mac. But you can’t receive. There’s no inbox. I want to be able to browse all my SMS messages. I want to see what I’ve sent and received since the start of my relationship with the operator. Don’t even consider telling me that this is ‘logistically difficult’, Mr Operator. Just stick them all in Google if your 1TB SATA hard disk solution isn’t good enough.

SMS: The ticket to relevance for operators
Just like the phone number I depend on for my voice calls, SMS is also your ticket to continued relevance. Lose this at your peril.

And you know what, that’s precisely what every single over-the-top player is trying to do. They’re all iterating fast to try and remove our reliance upon SMS. You just need to look at what Apple’s doing with iMessage and Google’s G+ Huddles. Once you make the username (Facebook, iCloud/Apple, Gmail) the unique identifier — properly — the operator is literally moved to a place of irrelevance. Just the bandwidth, thank you very much.

I’d very much like to see operators working on methods to solidify the position of SMS by extending the technology all over the place. First of all, I need to be able to see the back archive. Second, I need to be able to access and write messages from some browser/app. Wouldn’t it be neat to see the Vodafone logo on my Apple desktop? Third, you need to let me do smart things like sync and archive into Google. And I expect to be billed for the privilege. Maybe it’s a quid a month. Maybe it’s a ‘come on’ to get me to swap to a higher range of price plans. Can you imagine going out to market and asking people if they’d like to archive all their SMS messages for £0.50 a month? Folk would love it.

The SMS Mobile Application
I’d LOVE to be able to download the Vodafone SMS application on to my Three iPhone. I’d just have to verify my account and boom, I would be able to get ALL the SMS I normally receive on my BlackBerry via my iPhone too. And I’d be able to write messages from the iPhone via the app that get sent out using my primary Vodafone number, not my iPhone number. This would rock. Voda could send me a push notification of SMS to my iPhone. The integration on an Android phone would be even better.

Ah dear.

Back to reality, eh? The fact that I’m actually getting excited over something so mundane, so easy, so SIMPLE to implement, geez it’s depressing.

Thus ends the fifth Operator Innovation post.

[Note: o2’s Bluebook is due a mention. Just a brief mention. You sort-of got this working, folks. Sort-of. But to my utter annoyance, you really didn’t go anywhere near as far enough. Come on. What about a proper refresh, eh?]

– – – – –

Check out the other posts in the Operator Innovation series:

One number for all my voice calls
Fancy a MacBook Air, iPhone, iPad for £100/month?
Why can’t my operator talk to my bank when my card declines abroad
Taxis, baby, Taxis!

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

8 replies on “Operator Innovation: Let me access my SMS everywhere?”

Remember Nokia’s Mobile Web Server? You could access not just SMS, but also your address book, calendar, and pics from any web browser as long as the app was running on your mobile. There was even some neat API hooks to mash up your mobile’s data with another person who also ran the server on their mobile. Operators saw the tech and could t wrap their heads around that kind of “innovation.” as Simon,e as your idea sounds, I’m not sure they would wrap their hands around this one either.

I do not use multiple numbers, but I change devices quite often, and feel  your pain re:sms backup. If you have android, you are lucky – use free app “sms backup+”. It can backup both sms and call history to your google account. . And even can restore it on another device. I am sure that there are paid apps for this on iOS and Symbian too.

For controlling my android phone I use “mighty text”. It syncs with the phone and you can see incoming calls and sms, and reply to – all within google chrome.

You have neat idea about integrating IP chat with real sms on the phone though, I want to spend more time thinking about it.

HashBlue from O2 would allow this sort of integration, with the APIs you could create a App for multiple phones accessing the same archive of SMS and sending.  

Not perfect as it’s only for O2 though

Much of the above could be solved with a simple move: make SMS available via the web, and allow others to integrate using an API. That would allow for platform-specific apps too.

I know people who really want to use SMS more – a friend of mine who runs a letting agency for students wants to be able to text groups of people from the web, and get replies back to his own phone*. I’m looking into setting up this for him using txtlocal, but as “it’s complicated, techy stuff”, I’m having to walk him through it. If an operator offered it, there’d be no futzing about with the return path for replies, and the operator would reap the revenue. Instead, it’ll be going to a third party.

SMS on the web would also allow me to use a John’s Phone for when I go to the park with the kids, as that’s perhaps the only mobile that doesn’t do SMS. I could properly set up an auto-reply function. As it is, I’ve jailbroken my iPhone and installed AutoResponder to get that functionality.

* Also interesting: the students are not interested in real-time email. That’s for uni and other “professional”-type stuff. SMS is instant and everywhere.

My N8 talks to my Windows laptop via either a cable or bluetooth. Which ever way it does Ovi suite is set to auto sync my text messages so that when I’m on my laptop I can text via that, and Ovi suite has the full conversational view that I prefer to use so it’s not just a simple inbox and outbox setup either. Once a week it does an automated full on backup of all my contacts, SMS, calendar etc. Using a programme called ABC Amber NBU converter from the Process Text Group I can then extract all, or a selection of my text messages from the weekly backup file and have them churned out in a variety of formats. I keep all my purchase receipt SMS like this in pdf format. And that programme does say it will export my messages to a Blackberry friendly format but I’ve never tried this as I’ve never had a handset to test it with. According the the Process Text Group website they have similar programmes that work for both the Blackberry and the iPhone. I’ve been using their software for a very long time now, right back to the time I needed to get a hard copy of some texts from my beloved N91!

Now that is just one phone and one PC, but I keep my backup phone empty of SMS so that I can simply sync the Ovi suite PC based messages back to the phone.

I can how the multi phone/network/account thing would drive me bonkers as well, so for all our sanity I hope someone out there is paying attention and working on this.

Hmm DeskSMS for Android might help you. The concept is very very clever. You install the app and can configure it so every time you get an SMS, it emails you the SMS, should you want to respond to the SMS, you just reply to the email, and the recipient gets an SMS back. Clever eh? But it goes deeper than that.. It is also compitable with Google Talk, so you can receive your SMS’s into Google Talk, and the person appears as a contact in your Google Talk contacts, so you can ‘talk’ to them in G Talk and the message goes to them via SMS, and any response goes back into your G Talk. There are also Firefox and Chrome extensions too that allow you to respond and send SMS’s through them too!

App is free (think you get a 10 day trial), and then its £3.99 for a year.

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