I think, therefore IM: does mobile IM pose a threat to SMS?
In the latest edition of our mobile messaging report published today, Juniper Research assesses the market for this type of communication on the mobile device, including two competing formats of P2P text-based communication: SMS and mobile IM. A key debate within the industry is whether the relatively newer means of messaging – mobile IM – represents a considerable challenge to SMS. There are good arguments for and against this viewpoint, but we are firmly of the opinion that within the 5-year period of our forecasts, SMS will remain dominant. Firstly, and most importantly SMS is far more ubiquitous than mobile IM: virtually every mobile device in the world can send and receive an SMS. While mobile IM can be accessed through apps on smartphones and through browser-based apps on feature phones, the market for these services remain fragmented. There are, of course, aggregating services such as eBuddy which enable cross-network communication, and have a rapidly growing number of users: for example, an AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) user can chat with a Yahoo! Messenger user within eBuddy’s app. However, users of these services are a subset of the total, and many mobile IM users can only chat within a closed network. Mobile IM no doubt has many appealing aspects to the user: it is real-time (whereas there is a brief delay between sending and receiving an SMS); it is perceived as more high-tech and consequently, “cooler” by younger demographics (something their “uncool” elders who are still grappling with SMS don’t understand!); the same service is accessible on a number of other devices – e.g. PCs, laptops (unlike SMS which is almost exclusively mobile); and, it appears to be “free” (given the user is only charged for data, unlike SMS which is charged on a per message basis). That said, SMS is more suited to the mobile setting: it is integrated into the device’s UI (User Interface) in a prominent position and is always running (whereas mobile IM requires a download of an app which must be opened each time); it is more discreet – users may be in social situations where they cannot hold a conversation (the sender of an IM often expects an immediate response); SMS is becoming more IM-like with more sophisticated threaded UIs that give a conversational feel when required; and, SMS is still evolving as a technology, for example a number of operators are collaborating on RCS-e (Rich Communication Suite Enhanced). Thus, we don’t see mobile IM having the kind of the impact that has been predicted elsewhere, as quoted in a recent article in the Financial Times. SMS is a mature service, but one that is evolving technologically and remains in an immensely strong position because of its ubiquity and flexibility (being simple enough for basic handsets, but appearing more sophisticated in high-end smartphones).