Congratulations, text messages! It was 20 years ago Monday that the first SMS was sent. You’ve come a long way.
Pity that all the tech giants want you to die.
Facebook fired the latest shot in the war on SMS Tuesday morning, as the company made its Messenger app available to Android users across five countries — regardless of whether or not they have a Facebook account. Download the Messenger app and sign in with your phone number, and you’re good to send messages to anyone else using the product.
It’s yet another move by a mobile-focused tech industry to undermine the cellular carriers’ stranglehold on the global text messaging market. As carriers have reaped rich rewards from the high margin SMS business, handset giants like Research in Motion and Apple have over the years developed their own SMS killers, opting instead to use customers’ data plans to send messages instead of SMS. Though Facebook doesn’t offer a smartphone (yet), the Messenger app is available for iOS and Android phones, yet another alternative to SMS.
To be clear, it’s not exactly sounding the immediate death knell for SMS. The upgrade is meaningful for those with Android phones who do not hold a Facebook account. And it still requires you download the Messenger app to use the service.
Yet at the same time, there’s potential for international expansion
Consider this: The product update will initially roll out in five countries beginning Tuesday — India, Australia, Indonesia, Venezuela and South Africa. Those happen to be areas with extremely expensive SMS rates. Convince users — Facebook account or no — to switch to the free messaging medium, and you’ve got an entirely new method for expanding both Messages users as well as potentially driving new Facebook sign-ups.
And to start rolling the product out on Android first is a no-brainer. It’s the fast-spreading smartphone platform that is taking over the world, available on both high-end devices as well as the slew of cheap handsets that populate developing countries. That’s yet another way to break into areas that Facebook hasn’t captured the majority of users in quite yet.
Apparently Facebook wants to bring the feature to iOS users as well, though has no timeline to do so. I’d imagine that would be an unwelcome addition for Apple, considering the Cupertino company would probably rather you stick to using iMessage than switching over to Facebook’s message system.
There’s certainly more on the horizon. The space is rife with competitors — especially fast-growing mobile messaging platform WhatsApp, which in the past Facebook has expressed interest in (though isn’t currently in talks to acquire, as we reported) — so I’d expect the social giant will continue to put the heat on at a rapid pace.
And there are still massive swaths of the market to be captured. While smartphones are exploding in popularity, the majority of the world still uses “dumbphones” or feature phones. As devices continue to become cheaper over time, it’s open season on those new audiences.
For now, carriers can continue to reap in massive returns in the SMS market. Happy Birthday, SMS. Enjoy your party while it lasts.
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