x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Twenty years of texting

The world has embraced the SMS since the first brief text message was sent in 1992.

It was 20 years ago yesterday that a 22-year-old British engineer, Neil Papworth, sat down at a computer keyboard and typed the words "Merry Christmas". Almost immediately, an Orbitel 901 mobile phone owned by Vodafone director Richard Jarvis beeped. The words appeared on his screen, and a new era in communications was born.

However, the short messaging service (SMS) was slow to catch on, and typed missives with a maximum of 160 characters were seen as a novelty. When SMS was commercialised as a phone-to-phone service in 1993, it was restricted to certain handset types, and users could send messages only to subscribers with the same carrier.

Today, SMS is universally available and more than 15 million text messages - or "txts" to the cool kids - are sent every minute of every day. For teenagers, texting quickly became the preferred way of using a mobile phone, and it spawned its own, shortened vernacular.

The SMS is now in decline; it is being superseded by smartphone technology that allows for thousands of internet-based applications. Ironically, one of them is Twitter - a text service that has an even more restrictive 140-character limit. But, hey, SMS, U were Gr8 while U lasted.