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The decline and fall of texting

The number of traditional SMS text messages has dropped for the first time ever, hinting at a major shift in mobile communications.

By MSN Money Partner Nov 15, 2012 2:31PM

This post comes from Quentin Fottrell at partner site MarketWatch.


MarketWatch logoOne of the ironies of cellphone use in recent years has been the decline of voice minutes in favor of text messages and emails. Phone calls became a secondary function of phones. But now Americans are sending fewer texts as well, leaving some to wonder: What are people using their phones for?


Woman Sitting in a Cafe Texting © Stephen Morris, Vetta, Getty ImagesFor the first time ever, the number of texts sent by U.S. customers dropped, according to a report published this week by Chetan Sharma, an independent mobile analyst and consultant. Though the decline is slight -- down 3% to an average of 678 texts a month in the third quarter -- it hints at a major shift in mobile communications.


As the traditional SMS text message falls out of favor, all those LOLs are probably just moving onto other platforms, such as Apple's iMessage and other services that send missives over the Internet, experts say. "Customers are moving onto more advanced ways to text," says technology analyst Jeff Kagan.


Free apps like Viber, Jaxtr SMS and iMessage offer more features than traditional texts and tend to be cheaper to use.


Texts represent a major source of revenue for wireless carriers, which sometimes charge as much as 20 cents for a single text message -- transmissions said to cost the companies just a few cents.


In fact, earlier this year, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson expressed his concern about the decline in text messages. "You lie awake at night worrying about what is that which will disrupt your business model," he said. "Apple iMessage is a classic example. If you're using iMessage, you're not using one of our messaging services, right?" (AT&T's wireless-data business remains "robust" and saw an annual increase of 18% to $6.6 billion in the third quarter of 2012, according to Mark Siegel, a company spokesman.)


The rise of hybrid voice/instant messaging services may be another death knell for the humble text. Google Voice allows subscribers to send and receive free text messages on their mobile phones as long as all texts are sent and received through each user's Google Voice number rather than the number provided by the carrier. Google Voice users can also send free texts by speaking into the phone.


Likewise, Apple's voice-activation service Siri will transcribe voice messages via iMessage -- but only if the recipient has iMessage installed too.

"There's less need to spend an extra $20 or $30 a month on text-messaging plans," says Linda Barrabee, an analyst with market researcher NPD Group.


Since messaging is now being done over the Internet, wireless carriers are looking for ways to milk more revenue out of data plans, experts say. "Texting has been a very profitable business for the carriers," Barrabee says. Verizon Wireless and AT&T are phasing out unlimited-data plans and, earlier this year, introduced shared-data plans with unlimited talk and texting. Sprint and T-Mobile, meanwhile, still have unlimited-data plans.


What's more, data is getting more expensive. Faster 4G LTE connections will boost data usage to 1.2 gigabytes a month from 500 GB on slower 3G connections, according to Validas, which analyzes wireless bills.


But consumers are getting savvier at managing their data usage, experts say. Some 80% of Android and iPhone users accessed their data over Wi-Fi in September, according to a recent report by the NPD Group. They are more dependent on their smartphones and using them on Wi-Fi, Barrabee says. In May, Time Warner, Comcast, Cablevision, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks teamed up to offer their customers access to more than 50,000 Wi-Fi hot spots.


More on MarketWatch and MSN Money:

Nov 16, 2012 11:32AM
Here is how I see the immediate future.  Microsoft is going to develop its own cell phone that will make broad use of their newly acquired Skype application.  You can talk and text over that app for free.  As a matter of fact you can do that right now. 
Nov 16, 2012 11:22AM

Texting is down, is that in the same place that driving is down also? Please let me know cause if there is a place in this country where the peeps aren't texting and driving less that is where I want to be. I have heard of big foot sightings, ghosts, aliens(no not the ones from Mexico), loch ness monster etc. But have you ever seen anyone at at time under 30 without a cell phone in their hand, either texting or taking?  No me neither.

Nov 16, 2012 11:14AM
I will support those that are hearing impaired or the use of these for emergency messages only.
Nov 16, 2012 11:12AM
"Google Voice users can also send free texts by speaking into the phone."   Wave of the future?

Time and money are too precious to throw away texting, which for the most part is just drivel banter anyway. In our backwards little cave called home we use that internet phone you see advertized for $19.99 a YEAR; unlimited local and long distance, and free calls to anyone Worldwide with the same service. We save what, $1000 or more annually, countless hours staring a tiny screen, endless interruptions, and extortionistic bills too. If a text is absolutely necessary, there are online utilities that allow texting for free. Best of all, we are not tempted to text from the safety and comfort (sarcasm intended) of the family car. Live long and prosper =) 
Nov 16, 2012 11:10AM
Texting on a touchscreen is annoying as all hell.  Not that I texted a lot when I had a keyboard on the phone, but I hate to type on a screen.  Google Now does have a pretty accurate voice to text feature now though.  I just hit the little microphone on the keyboard and start talking.  Much easier.
Nov 16, 2012 11:05AM
When we went to get our new cell phones, the young lady behind the desk almost needed jaw surgery when we told her we did NOT want our phones set up for texting.  We just smiled and told her that the phones were just fine. All we ever use them for is for the original design purpose, MAKING and RECEIVING phone calls. :)
Nov 16, 2012 10:58AM
Texting is vital to those who are hearing impaired or speech impaired not to mention the deaf community. I text about 5 - 10 mesages a day and I can say that it has made my life a lot easier. Lots of  people I know depend on texting.  Technology is important to those who have no other opiton.  WiFI is nice but is it everywhere ? In rural areas like the high plains, cell phones provide a safety net for thousands of isolated communities.
Nov 16, 2012 9:29AM
My grandson's texting led to his roll over accident and totaled his car. Now he can walk or take a bus to his college classes. Lucky for him it was a one car accident and he came out of it alive. Talking on a phone and driving is bad enough but typing & driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. They do have voice mail and hands free devices for drivers with cell phones.
Nov 16, 2012 9:20AM
I have a land line, I have no need for a cell phone and especially for texting, If I want to talk to someone I call them on my phone, If they are not home I either leave a message or call back later, I have a few friends in foreign countries, I occasionally use my computer to connect to speak with them, Life does not need to be all that complicated, people spending hundreds of dollars a month on cell phones in ridiculous and a waste of money they could be using to pay for their essential bills...Like food ,utilities and mortgage or rent.
Nov 16, 2012 9:13AM
I use my little old flip phone as  What a novel idea.  I dont have smartphone, I dont need a smartphone, I dont want a smartphone.  They drain your wallet while making you rude and a person detached from reality.  No thanks.  I wont be guided through life by a little electronic box.
Nov 16, 2012 8:44AM
why people pay for texting is beyond me.use yahoo instant messenger or the msn messenger,does the same thing as texting and it is FREE!
Nov 16, 2012 8:30AM

"all of you that say texting is bs or why dont you just call like people did before texting. do all of you live in the 50's or something seriously, texting is just another way to write and to comunicate with one another."


Ahhhh, no. Texting destroys your thumbs and eyesight. It can destroy your existence if you do it while driving. Try actual COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR MOUTH, just take your foot out before talking. As for 'just another way to communicate' it isn't. It degrades the American Language and promotes dumb code.  

Nov 16, 2012 8:26AM

Texting is a nuisance and addiction. Cell phones are a nuisance and addiction. I'm not ancient, I have successful e-businesses. My worst customers use i-Phones and lack intelligence. Let's get back to Reality for once and put civilization ahead of business and marketing.

Nov 16, 2012 7:45AM
all of you that say texting is bs or why dont you just call like people did before texting. do all of you live in the 50's or something seriously, texting is just another way to write and to comunicate with one another.  and just like when the first landline phone came to exist it was all but like why cant you drive or just write a letter to that person like the old days. stop bashing texting its just a kinda old (new tech to most of you) tech way of talking but not in person. its a form of comunication, instead of talking when maybe you dont have time to talk you can text and save minutes if you have the free text thing or not, or when your in a meeting and need to talk to someone about whats going on, or when say when you have a kid and want everyone to know as soon as it happens, etc. i could go on and on but the people that think that this texting thing is unfashionable or that america has lost touch with whatever your trying to get at your just either to old to understand new tech, just dont want to LEARN new tech, or think its stupid then dont complain about stuff you dont use.
Nov 16, 2012 3:12AM

Quentin Fottrell , you have now officially become the worst  columnist on the face of the earth. did you even stop for second and consider the reason for the 3 percent drop in text messages is the nation wide ban on texting while driving. 

congrats Quentin Fottrell , now go back to  the ostrich farm you live on and bury your head in sand.

Nov 15, 2012 8:47PM

Why in the hell can't people take up speaking to each other? All this is bs. To be able to say things don't mean to people they don't know is a decaying of societal roles. We, as a species learned to communicate verbally for a reason.  It hasn't been transcended by Bill or Steve.

Nov 15, 2012 8:05PM
I have no idea why people pay to text when all they have to do is pick up the phone if they want to talk to someone.  The lemmings are going over the cliff in droves while Verizon, AT&T and the rest of the money grubbers laugh all the way to the bank...
Nov 15, 2012 7:49PM
Text messages always seemed so provincial to me.  It's like a step backwards.  How ignorant is it to try to text and drive?  It's called a telephone for a reason.  You talk on it.  I guess unlimited minutes are important to a motor mouth.  I barely use 500 minutes a year.  The only reason I have a cell phone is because it was cheaper than my wall phone.  I just don't see the need and I can't make sense of spending $100 a month just for  telephone service.  I don't care if it can dance or what.  I just need it to make calls.  Sometimes, I wonder what people are smoking when they are willing to spend $500 dollars for a telephone and $100 plus for service every month.  Maybe I want to smoke some of that too!  I don't smoke often... but when I do... I prefer Acapulco Gold with my Dos Equis!  Stay high my friends and don't forget to share your joint with the women!
Nov 15, 2012 7:18PM
I have never texted, seems old fashioned like using morse code. For 99% of calls I use my landline, ya know, unlimited calls, no dropped calls, no recharging battery and all that for 25.00 a month, for cell I use prepaid, about 8.50 a month.
Nov 15, 2012 6:38PM
Well, now the carriers will jack up the price of their data plans again. What's that? You use wi-fi? Oh, didn't you know, to unlock that function will require an additional fee per month.

Just you wait and see. The carriers will do that.

They jack up the price, and cut the quality of service, and there's nothing you can do about it. And none of the profits ever seems to go to beefing up the system to handle the load.

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