December 12, 2012 / IST / Science & Technology.

sms-phones-300x204The modern cell phone has come a long way from the clunky days of brief case-sized devices and one of the things that helped truly revolutionize mobile communications was the text message. This week SMS turned 20 years-old and whilst many people were quick to celebrate this technological innovation, a few people were busy asking the question of whether SMS will be around much longer.

Short Message Service

SMS had its beginning round about Christmas time 20 years ago and so fittingly the very first message sent was “Merry Christmas!” This was sent by Neil Papworth who was working for the Sema Group at the time, to recipient Richard Jarvis of Vodafone, the UK telecoms company that went on to become a household name.

Since that fateful day SMS has helped transformed everything from how we communicate to the very language we use to communicate. Thanks to SMS words (yes, they are now part of the English lexicon) like “gr8” and “lol” are now staples of mobile and online communication. SMS was partly the inspiration for Twitter’s co-founders who took things one step further with brevity and lowered the character limit for a tweet to 140—SMS is 160 characters.

Big part of our lives

A Simmons National Consumer Study conducted by Experian Marketing Services found that SMS has quietly become a mainstream method of communication across many segments of society. 48% of adults aged 18-24 for instance, said that texting is just as profound as making a phone call. The majority of adults over 24 years of age use texting to communicate, though not as often as their younger counterparts.

SMS has stayed true to its humble beginnings and text messages have largely remained unchanged over the years. What has changed however, are the features that now come standard with most cell phones. Emoticons for instance added a rich layer of tools that helps people convey complex emotions with just a few taps of their finger. But whilst emoticons have added more color and spirit to texting, the practice itself remains couched in simplicity.

Rise of rich media

By contrast, the rich media features that have become a part of most mobile phones have presented a challenge to the widespread use of SMS. People are now able to take a quick photo and send it in an instant—perfect for fast sharing without all the fuss of typing. Video and video calling is also gaining popularity and many people now use these rich tools over texting.

Social media has also made serious inroads into the use of SMS and Facebook is the leading threat to the 160-character invention. Still, most tech-historians believe that SMS will have a life well into the future. It may not be as ubiquitous as it is now, but it will still be around. Those preaching the death of SMS forget that despite the tremendous advance of mobile phones and their applications, many billions of people around the world still don’t have access to them. Whilst Moore’s law may be accelerating the advance of technology, it does nothing to accelerate access.

Do you still use SMS to communicate with your friends and family? Share your thoughts below.