Wireless Wonders

No news, just comment about mobile phones and services, from a veteran practitioner...3G, GPRS, WAP, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Email versus texting...

In my last post I was lamenting the unimpressive promotion of mobile email on an operator website. Fellow mobilist Chris Petersen came back to me suggesting that mobile email could still become a killer app.

However, as much as I am an advocate of mobile email, and an avid user, I would like to question the assumption that the success of texting provides a vector into the world of mobile email. Unfortunately that simply isn't true. In fact, texting is proving to be a complete anomaly in many ways.

With the notable exception of the US, where texting is much less successful than anywhere else, practically every mobile phone user is also a text user, even penetrating the older age range of users. The unmistakable feature of text, apart from its incredible speed and push-alert nature, is that it is built in to every device without exception.

Combine this with the fact that everyone carries their mobile with them for nearly every waking hour (and even to their bedside) and that texting is compatible with every single network and works across networks, the communications power of texting is unmatched. In its Metcalfe's-Law potential, it is super-connected.

In fact, texting is probably the most successful application in the history of technology.

Because of its prevalence and power, there simply isn't any reason for texters to move to email. It is not a progression whatsoever. Let's say I have 100 contacts in my mobile address book, I can reach every single one of them instantly with a text message and be highly confident that they have received it and probably will read it. I can't say that about email with any of them. As a matter of fact, even with my fellow Blackberry users, it is a strange-but-true experience that texting them gets a quicker response than emailing them, even though I know they will get both on the move. This is probably because the perceived time-sensitivity is different.

The anomaly of texting is that it works, almost counter-intuitively, despite its pithiness. Those of you involved with texting in its early days will remember how dismissive people were of its measly 160 characters. What we have really discovered is that, very often, human-to-human communication can be very sparse and still be effective.

Texting dispenses with formalities, etiquettes and the apparently redundant small-chat "hand-shaking" process that we can't help undertaking face to face. Texting even dispenses with redundancy in language. Grammar has been altered, letters have been dropped and language has been wholesale re-configured to make our texting exchanges even pithier than 160 characters.

Those of you who remember the hype behind MMS will recall that one prevalent line of reasoning went like this:

1. Texting is big
2. MMS is "better" than texting
3. MMS should be big
4. [Worrying logic] MMS is the litmus of the mobile-data future (a la 3G)

This line of reasoning has proven to be incorrect. A similar line of reasoning exists in some minds about mobile email. This too has proven to be incorrect.

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