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This is the Modem World: Why are we still texting?

This is the Modem World: Why are we still texting?
Aaron Souppouris
Aaron Souppouris|@AaronIsSocial|March 13, 2013 3:30 PM

Each week Joshua Fruhlinger contributes This is the Modem World, a column dedicated to exploring the culture of consumer technology.

"Just text me..."

How many times have you told someone that? Say you're meeting a friend somewhere: What's the first thing you do when you get there? You text him or her to announce your arrival. Why? Because that's how you're trained. You don't email, call or use some other protocol.

And you know what? You're paying for that text even though you already have a data plan, unless you're grandfathered into one of the better unlimited plans of the 20th century. Truth is, SMS texts are perhaps the most lucrative service that providers offer -- more so than data or voice plans, and they want us to keep using the outdated technology whether we need to or not.

Texting was excusable 10 years ago, when phones didn't do email or apps very well. SMS was, after all, the best messaging protocol we had at the time. Based as a way to work with GSM in the lowest-bandwidth footprint possible, it was quick and to the point in 160 characters and 128 bytes.

Texting was somewhat excusable five years ago, when we were finally figuring out apps and mobile email. At the time, push email was rare -- although prevalent on BlackBerry handsets -- and text messages were still a good way of sending an important message to the top of someone's crowded screen.

But today? I'm not sure there is an excuse anymore. We walk around with fast, multi-tasking tablet computers we call phones that are beyond capable of push messages. We're connected to dozens of social networks at all times, with our phones sorting priority for us and assuring us that we're on top of incoming information.

And yet we still text like well-trained dogs.

Texting is convenient and -- in many ways -- fun. But isn't it time we leave it behind?

How much is this data really costing us? On our US networks, we're paying about $20 a month for unlimited texting or $0.20 per text. Assuming each text message is 128 bytes, you could send 8,388,608 texts in 1 gigabyte of data. With the currently charged $0.20 per text, that's $1,677,721.60 per gigabyte. Of course, you're not paying that, but even at $20 per month, assuming you send 500 texts in a month, that's $0.04 per text. Even at that rate you're paying $335,544.32 per gigabyte. Screwy numbers for sure, but you can see that the math is way off for the consumer and the provider is happy to provide you with a quick fix.

Texting is convenient and -- in many ways -- fun. But isn't it time we leave it behind? What do we gain from texting, other than its immediacy, that we can't get from apps or even push email?

There are multitudes of options that use your data plan and still push messages to friends and family like a text. BlackBerry Messenger, iMessenger and Gchat are all slowly taking texting's place, but we still text one another. It's time we make a conscious effort to get off this crazy-expensive train.

If you're still not convinced, give one of the apps below a try and see if you can wean yourself off the texting. Of course, you need the other party to have the same app in his or her lineup in many cases, but that's an easy leap once you see the prices we're paying per gigabyte.


Kik is a popular alternative that not only pushes messages but also includes a bevy of metadata that helps contextualize chat conversations like knowing when a message has been delivered and read. It runs on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Ovi and BlackBerry.


Line is quickly becoming one of the most popular messaging apps in the world. Launched in Asia, it caters to those who like their emoticons and stickers, but it's a solid messenger and available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry. It even has desktop versions for when you are in sit-down mode.

Google Voice

If you want to send texts to people using SMS but want to use your data connection, Google Voice is a good choice. Just create a Voice number and use it to send texts. This is particularly useful if you want to send texts to people who don't have the same apps as you. It's available for Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Palm webOS, Nokia S60 and Windows Phone.

So there you have it: three options and surely many I have overlooked. What are you waiting -- or paying -- for?

Joshua Fruhlinger is the former Editorial Director for Engadget and current contributor to both Engadget and the Wall Street Journal. You can find him on Twitter at @fruhlinger.

This is the Modem World: Why are we still texting?