Why text messaging may be on the way out

Text messaging may be huge right now, but Don Reisinger believes it won't last forever. And with the advent of chatting applications for cell phones, he thinks its end may be near.

I'm sure the very thought of text messaging entering the final stages in its life is a bit too much to fathom right now, considering Gartner believes 2 trillion messages will be sent this year and most analysts think text messaging will grow rapidly, but I'm not so quick to jump on the bandwagon.

The way I see it, more and more companies are realizing that the cell phone is an ideal place to feature chat applications and with popular devices like the iPhone leading that charge, I think text messaging growth will be stymied sooner than you think.

Just look at Google's latest announcement for all the proof you need. According to the company, it has officially released a new version of Google Talk for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which will allow you to send Gmail messages to friends without the need for any additional software or require to spend any cash to do it.

And it's that last component that could make all the difference in the world: it's free to use.

Let's face it -- text messaging prices are ridiculous. Can someone explain to me why I'm forced to pay around 20 cents per message for something so trivial? Of course, many people (especially those with kids) would rather spend money on the unlimited texting plan and be done with it, but it still isn't the ideal solution.

Instead, a service like Google Talk is. Granted, using Google Talk implies data charges and only those with the ability to get online will be able to use it, but I think this service is just the first step in a major movement that could change the way we interact with cell phones.

The way I see it, most people have proven that they would gladly interact with a cell phone keyboard, so that very critical issue is already set aside. And although text messaging is made available to everyone and anyone can interact with anyone else, the cost is the real sticking point.

If enough cell phones featured reliable and worthwhile chat applications that their friends actually used, I think the 2 trillion messages sent mark would be reduced by a significant margin and more people would be willing to use chat applications than text messaging.

But it's that level of engagement that matters most. Without one major leader in each market, chatting won't take off. Much like AIM in the US and MSN overseas, a dominating chatting application must emerge and have a large enough customer base that everyone's friends will be able to use it without the need for text messaging.

And although that may seem like a long way out, I'm not so sure that's true. Instead, I believe that Apple has transformed the cell phone industry and more cell phones will feature the kind of capabilities we've come to enjoy from smartphones. And as that happens, chat applications will become more ubiquitous as well. All the while, our reliance on text messaging as a communication medium will fall by the wayside.

Google Talk is just the first step in eroding text messaging use and creating an environment that's dictated by chatting applications and online interaction.

It may not happen overnight, but rest assured that text messaging won't be around for long and it may even be gone before you know it.

Want to know what Don is up to? Follow him on Twitter and FriendFeed.

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About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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