Why Apple’s iMessage is set to kill the SMS industry stone dead

Ok, I admit it: That headline was for effect. I know Tomi Ahonen (“Mr SMS”) would have a heart attack if he thought I was serious.

I do however know a lot of people in the SMS marketplace who are rather concerned by the assumption by many (especially those in Silicon Valley) that SMS is all but dead. The received wisdom is that iMessage is the way ahead. This wisdom does have a way of spawning a self-fulfilling cycle — witness, for example, the Silicon Valley viewpoint a few years back that Nokia was dead. The Valley collectively helped make this true, by — in some cases — actually refusing to develop for the Nokia platform.

There’s quite a few problems with the ‘SMS is dead’ viewpoint, not least the fact that everyone you communicate with MUST have an iPhone in order for iMessage to be vaguely useful. There are legions of Android users in the Valley so I wonder just how well the viewpoint will stay alive across the next few months.

SMS still has a part to play in the marketing mix and, fundamentally, if you need to contact someone with a message (and you don’t know/care what device they’ve got), text messaging is the way ahead.

I wonder how much damage iMessage will do to the mobile operator business model? In the short term, not much, I don’t think. I’ll need to look closely at how the medium works. If, for example, you try to message someone on another iPhone, will Apple automatically route that message via their network rather than SMS? That would certainly be stimulating. Or do you need to actually decide to use the medium? This is a little unclear to me as I haven’t looked at it in-depth.

The challenge with SMS from an operator standpoint is that it will become increasingly difficult to justify the ’10p’ (or, in some cases, 12p+VAT) per message charge. I’m excited to see how consumers react: Will they, for example, decide to buy smaller text bundles in future.

What’s your view?

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