Texts in decline as WhatsApp and friends set to send 300bn messages

Experts say WhatsApp and the like contributed to the number of text messages sent falling for the first time last year.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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The humble text message is in decline, with twice as many instant messages as texts set to be sent this year. Experts say WhatsApp and the like contributed to the number of texts sent falling for the first time in 2013, a trend that's likely to continue into the new year. 

Making its technology predictions for 2014, analysts at Deloitte foresee a year of decline for SMS. The text message is still pretty far from disappearing, however: despite falling 7bn last year, 145bn texts were still sent in total.

But txtspk and quick messages live on in instant message apps like WhatsApp that soup up the humble text with group chat, emoticons, links, photos and videos. 160bn instant messages were exchanged last year, a number Deloitte reckons will double in 2014 even as texts continue to slide.

Telecoms watchdog Ofcom noted the beginnings of the decline over a year ago on the occasion of the 20th birthday of the first British text message, which read "Merry Christmas" and was sent by engineer Neil Papworth from his computer to an Orbitel 901 mobile phone on Vodafone on 3 December 1992.

"The explosion in popularity of smartphones has changed the way we communicate, connect and gather information, exposing the limitations of the humble text message," notes Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch. "It’s no coincidence that 95 per cent of mobile phone contracts are now offering unlimited texts, while data often comes at a premium -- you can’t even give text messages away."

"We're already witnessing the slow death of the landline, and Deloitte's research shows the text message isn't far behind."

Personally, I still like to text: thanks to those unlimited allowances they're free, they go to any phone anywhere, and they're all in one place. What with WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook, BBM, iMessage, Snapchat, Tinder, Twitter -- not forgetting email -- there's just too many places to keep on top of messages. But then, I remember when it were all fields round here and I can't remember where I left my glasses. 

Have you ditched texts? What's the best IM app? Leave me a message in the comments or on our Facebook page.