Father of SMS reflects on 20th anniversary of first text message

In a BBC interview via texting, Matti Makkonen discusses the birth and growth of SMS and how he shouldn't be considered its creator.

The reluctant father of SMS, Matti Makkonen.
The reluctant father of SMS, Matti Makkonen. LinkedIn/Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

TxtN trns 20 2day. Hw willya celebr8?

The so-called father of SMS commemorated the occasion via a rare interview that appropriately enough was conducted via text messages.

Chatting with the BBC yesterday, Matti Makkonen took credit for conceiving and fleshing out SMS, or short message service. But he lived up to his title as its "reluctant father" by making it clear that others actually developed the technology.

"I did not consider sms as personal achievement but as result of joint effort to collect ideas and write the specifications of the services based on them," he told the BBC.

Sent on December 3, 1992, the first text went from a PC to a mobile device over Vodafone's U.K. network and expressed the simple message "Merry Christmas." Makkonen had initially suggested the idea back in 1984 at a telecommunications conference, according to the BBC. Yet SMS didn't come to life until engineers incorporated it as part of their work on the then-budding GSM standard.

In spite of the text's 20th birthday, Makkonen feels the technology actually was launched in 1994 when Nokia unveiled its 2010 mobile phone, the first device that let people easily write messages.

Makkonen didn't make any money off his idea, telling the BBC that he didn't think the invention could be patented.

How does the "reluctant father" use his invention?

He avoids textspeak, saying that "my passion is to write correct language (Finnish), using all 160 characters." But he does see texting as a way for language to develop by using more symbols and fewer characters.

And unlike many people who text, Makkonen seems to take his time when composing a message on his mobile device.

"I love touchscreen," he texted the BBC. "Slow enough to think and sometimes even edit what I write."

Makkonen is currently CEO of Anvia Oyj, a Finnish-based provider of telecommunication services.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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