Text messaging may very well be one of the greatest scams ever perpetrated by mobile carriers. When you send an SMS text message, it costs your carrier virtually nothing. That doesn’t stop them from charging you hundreds of dollars per year per phone for the privilege of sending them, though. In fact, when we made our list of the world's most overpriced tech products, text messaging came in #1.
But there’s a cheaper option. It’s called mobile messaging, and it’s taking off in a big way. According to research firm Informa, nearly 19 billion free mobile messages were sent in 2012, outpacing the 17.6 billion paid SMS messages sent for the first time. And the trend is saving smartphone owners money in a big way: nearly $23 billion in 2012 alone.
What is mobile messaging?
Mobile messaging involves replacing your phone’s SMS texts with a chat program capable of sending messages for free. To take advantage of mobile messaging, you’ll need a smartphone and a messaging app like iMessage, WhatsApp, or Kik.
The benefits of using mobile chat over SMS are clear. For one, mobile chat uses your phone’s data connection to send messages, opening up the possibility of cancelling your monthly texting plan. Services your carrier charges a premium for; like picture messaging, sending video, and messaging internationally; are all free with mobile chat provided your data plan can handle the usage. And given that standard unlimited texting plans start at $20 per month per phone, savings can add up quickly.
Should you make the switch?
Making the switch from SMS to mobile messaging isn’t for everyone, though. Both the sender and the receiver will need to use the same mobile messaging program, so coordination is required beforehand. You’ll still need to pay for incoming SMS messages, so its up to you to notify your friends and get them on the mobile messaging bandwagon, too. Parents will lose the ability to track their kids’ texting habits with mobile messaging. Programs like Kik and WhatsApp only work with smartphones, so if you’re using an old Samsung clamshell, you’ve got no choice but to hang on to your SMS plan.
The best way to find out if you’re ready for mobile messaging is to just give it a try. Kik is free, and WhatsApp will only set you back 99 cents, so there’s not much to lose. Keep your unlimited texting plan until you’ve weaned yourself off SMS. And be sure everyone on your plan understands the cost of individual text messages so you don’t get any nasty billing surprises.
Kik and WhatsApp are available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Nokia phones running Symbian and S40. Kik is free; WhatsApp is $0.99.