Ben Brooks on iMessage •

Overall iMessage isn’t a feature that is going to change the world, but if you family and friends are all iPhone users (increasingly more likely), it’s a very nice tool to have.

While I agree with Brooks counterpoint to Dr.Drang, I also disagree with his passive underestimation of its importance, especially with the 13-21 crowd. Here’s why.

My sister, who turned 18 over the summer, sends on average a thousand text messages a month. When I asked her about it, she wouldn’t even describe herself as a heavy user amongst her friends, whom many of which, coincidentally, own iPhones or iPod Touches. As for myself, the number of texts I send per month hovers around the low hundreds, most of which are to my girlfriend, who also owns an iPhone. I’ve already dropped my $15 unlimited text messaging plan and I’m encouraging her to do the same.

Of course, these two examples are merely anecdotal. Yet, I’ll go out on a limb and say that they aren’t uncommon. You might even recognize yourself in there.

Not much ink has been spilt about iMessage in all the iOS 5 reviews I’ve read, other than questions about multi-device synchronization. Unfortunately, it seems their authors fail to realize how ubiquitous text messaging has become as a mode of communication; a generational gap that even takes me by surprise sometimes.

iMessage is absolutely game changer. Blackberry’s own messaging system was already a hit amongst its users, and the iOS install base is exponentially larger, in the hundreds of millions. Apple’s entry is the tipping point: Android will surely follow suit to match the iPhone’s feature checklist, as will Windows 7. Neither would it be a stretch to imagine that future Facebook integration into mobile OSes will make messaging a standout feature. If you think iMessage is only a handy bonus, you’re missing the larger picture.

Combine those growing platforms with ever increasing Wi-Fi coverage and commoditization of wireless data and it’s easy to see that the writing is on the wall for SMS.

Update - 5:20pm

Ben responded to my post, reaffirming his initial position. Perhaps we don’t see eye to eye, but I rather think we’re both approaching the issue from different angles. Like him, I do agree that in it’s current implementation, iMessage won’t take over SMS by itself. Ben makes two great points that would help iMessage really take off:

It is integrated into Mac OS X.

It is opened up so that other platforms can use it (Android mainly).

I concur, but I still stand by my claim that iMessage is a game changer. Let me clarify:

  • iMessage may not be good enough to overtake SMS entirely, but I’m convinced it’s good enough for many people to reconsider their current SMS plans, perhaps even dropping to a lower - cheaper - plan. This will hurt the carriers, especially at iOS’s rate of growth.

  • iMessage has a large enough install base to make SMS alternatives viable and more importantly, popular beyond the small (in comparison)niche of BBM users. As I previously stated, Google and Microsoft will want to play a part in this as well, so I’d predict seeing something similar on Android and Windows Phone in the near future. But it doesn’t have to end with the big players; even if iMessage only stimulates interest in SMS alternatives, it’ll open the door for another third party to come up with the appropriate solution.

  • Text based messaging is a vital component of communication for a young but growing generation of kids, that will take those habits into adulthood. There’s incentive to find a free alternative to SMS. Likewise, you can expect vigorous resistance from the carriers for the same reasons.

  • The individual platforms may not want to adopt a standardized system, which would hurt adoption. Brooks is correct in pointing out the importance of interoperability. Something akin to system wide Facebook integration could be the answer: gargantuan install base and platform independence.

iMessage is the first jab in the direction of SMS, not the final blow.

Update - 6:01pm

Stephen Hackett astutely brings up another vital point.