x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

App attack! Is this the end of paid-for texting?

With graphic: A new survey shows that people are now more likely to send instant messages by other means, such as BlackBerry's BBM or Apple's iMessage.

The humble text message may have had its day. A new survey shows that people are now more likely to send instant messages by other means, such as BlackBerry's BBM or Apple's iMessage.

A study published by Informa found that last year users sent 17.6 billion text messages a day, falling short of the 19 billion sent by other means.

The company predicts that this year the gap will widen even further, with 19.5 billion text messages sent, but a massive 41 billion internet-based messages going out across the globe.

Instant messaging applications have proven a huge success, providing even the least tech-savvy user with an ever-growing number of ways to avoid telephone operator fees.

Instant messaging started out in the 1980s as a purely desktop computer-based feature, with the likes of Unix "talk" and Celerity.

As technologies improved, AOL's Instant Messenger and MSN also spawned new ways to communicate over the internet. Now instant messaging can be done from just about anywhere.

Mobile phones continue to become more powerful, making sending out that quick message to friend or colleague even easier.

The scope of instant messaging is not merely limited to sending text either, as pictures and video can quickly and easily be sent due to faster mobile internet speeds and falling costs.

Matthew Reed, the principal analyst for the Middle East and Africa at Informa Telecoms and Media said: "What this reflects is the growing pick-up of smartphones and data plans. People are increasingly switching to these apps as a sort of substitute for texts.

"You can have group chats and so on, so that combination of potentially lower costs and some additional features has really led to a really strong growth in these apps."

"It doesn't necessarily mean that texting is over, there is quite a lot of regional variation in terms of texts, it is stronger in some places than others, and some markets have a much lower penetration of smart phones."

It is thought that in some parts of the Middle East operators have seen a 60 per cent decline in text revenue due to the huge popularity of applications like WhatsApp.

But it does not necessarily spell disaster for telecoms companies. "People using these messaging services are having to take out data plans of some kind in order to use these services - so it is just a different form of revenue," said Mr Reed.

And with getting on for 20 billion messages a year, messaging is hardly dead. But a little green bubble may be starting to deflate.

ksinclair@thenational.ae