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Free-SMS app TextFree adds push notification

If you've got six bucks to spare, you can get a year's worth of free texting--complete with new-message alerts that appear even when your iPhone is off.

Push notification: A major "get" for free-SMS apps.

SMS charges can quickly bankrupt a text-happy teen, which is why free-SMS apps are so popular. These programs effectively recreate the texting experience, but with one major shortcoming: they can't notify you of new messages unless they're running.

iPhone OS 3.0 changes all that, and mega-popular TextFree is one of the first free-SMS apps to support the operating system's new push-notification capabilities.

Specifically, TextFree Unlimited 3.0 pops up a new-message alert whether it's running or not, and whether your iPhone is on or off. In other words, it functions more like Apple's stock SMS app (now called Messages).

It differs only in that you don't pay dime one to send or receive messages. The only remaining downside is that if someone texts your phone number rather than your TextFree address (e.g.,, it'll land in Messages.

Actually, there's an exception: If a message comes from another TextFree user, it'll arrive in TextFree--even when sent to your phone number. But you'll have to tell non-TextFree-using friends and family to update their address books with your TextFree address. Minor hassle.

TextFree 3.0 sells for $5.99. Unfortunately, that's now an annual price, though if you own the previous version, you're exempt from the fee. The free Lite version offers nearly all the same features, but has ads and limits you to 15 messages per day.

If you're holding out for a free free-SMS app, stay tuned: The developers of ad-supported TextPlus told me that a notification-enabled version of that app is coming soon.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on all this? Now that notification is in the mix, will you ditch your monthly SMS plan in favor of one of these apps? Or will the imminent arrival of MMS keep you from jumping ship?