SMS (Short Message Service) traffic, otherwise known as text messaging, is on a downward spiral. For the first time ever in the U.K., reports have emerged suggesting that people are sending fewer and fewer text messages through their cell-phone carriers. Usage has dropped "from 152 billion in 2012 to 145billion in 2013," according to estimates from Deloitte.
Competitive apps that bypass carrier messaging, like WhatsApp, iMessage, and Snapchat—which all use data connections, not SMS protocol—are rising in popularity, making text messages passé. And it looks like the preliminary data about the U.K. is representative of an overall global trend.
Last year, Marketing Charts claimed that U.S. texting habits faced dwindling numbers in 2012, shifting from prior years in which text messages was a rapidly growing communicative tool. In 2012, "Americans texted each other 2.19 trillion times, down 4.9% from the prior year, after at least three consecutive years of growth," according to a survey performed by CTIA. That study attributes the decline to smartphone saturation; the increase in smartphone usage is leading more people to use Internet-based applications for messaging.
Business Insider deduced a similar occurrence in the U.S., but credited the decline to data-using mobile apps as well as the dominance of young mobile users in the market. Smartphone users between the ages of 18 to 24 send text messages at nearly double the rate of users 25 to 34. Additionally, they reported that, "Young Americans send almost 10 times as many texts as Americans over 55."
Still, that growth hasn't cannibalized the growth of data-reliant messaging apps, according to Flurry Analytics, which reported today that messaging and social apps (including photo-sharing apps) grew 203% last year through messaging platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat, KakaoTalk, LINE, Facebook Messenger, and SnapChat. Furthermore, the rapid rate of growth of these tools has tripled in usage year over year.
Is there any upside here for cell-phone carriers? Yes, as it turns out: the 55-and-older generation, who are the holdouts for SMS communication, are slowly adopting it. According to The Independent, "Smartphone adoption [in the U.K.] is rising amongst senior citizens (it's expected to reach 68% this year), but these gradual adopters prefer to rely on SMS and calls rather than download a range of confusing apps."
[Hat tip: The Independent]