In December 1992, Neil Papworth sent a short message, “Merry Christmas,” from his computer to a phone through the Vodafone network. The technology he used to take this monumental step is called Short Message Service (SMS), although it is better known today as texting or text messaging. A little over twenty years later, this technology constitutes a massive chunk of our daily communication. Let’s take a look at what texting has looked like over the years and what it is likely to look like in the future.
In 1995, four years after that first SMS message was sent, the average American user sent only 0.4 texts per month. Much of this initial growth lag was due to the fact that networks were slow to catch up to the available technology. While Nokia introduced the first mobile phone capable of exchanging texts in 1993, it wasn’t until 1999 that users could text between networks, opening the door for the texting craze.
In 2000, the average user in the U.S. sent 35 texts per month, a dramatic increase which was encouraged by advances in cell phone design that made texting even easier and more convenient. If you were around during the early days of texting, you might remember having to plod through a text message by repeatedly hitting each key on your phone’s keypad numerous times to bring up the right letter. The Tegic system, commonly referred to as T9, was introduced in 1995 and made texting much simpler by predicting what word you were typing.
The Nokia 9000i Communicator, launched in 1997, was the first mobile phone to include a full QWERTY keyboard. Today, most phones use touchscreen technology, which made its first appearance as early as 1992 with the IBM Simon. However, touchscreens did not become widely popular until the Apple iPhone, the first modern “smartphone,” which was introduced in 2007 and started a craze of its own.
2007 saw another texting milestone when, for the first time, American users sent and received more SMS text messages than phone calls. Who was doing all that texting? The answer is no surprise – mostly teens and young adults. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2009 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 sent a median of 50 texts per day. By 2011 that number had risen to 60 texts per day. Also in 2011, Nielsen reported that teenage females were the heaviest texters, sending and receiving as many as 3,952 messages per month. Teenage males trailed behind with about a thousand messages less per month.
Of course, it isn’t just teens who are texting. In 2014, Experian Marketing Services published a report on the habits of Millennial adults aged 18 to 34 and found that 91% of those who owned smartphones engaged in texting during a typical week. Another Nielsen study found that even Baby Boomers, aged 45 through 64, are texting. As many as 85% of Boomers who own mobile phones reported using it for sending and receiving texts.
While texting continues to be prominent across all age groups, the sheer volume of texts exchanged has actually begun to decline. This decline was first seen in 2012 when Chetan Sharma reported that the total number of texts sent by cellphone owners per month in the U.S. dropped from 696 to 678. The drop has been attributed to the rising popularity of other messaging services such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
Whatsapp and other messengers like Facebook have recently become popular for providing cheaper alternatives to traditional SMS text messaging plans. However, these services still lack universality. New services like magicJack’s unlimited texting plan allows SMS to compete with these other options and even cross international borders while still communicating with other magicJack users. All cellphones these days also comes equipped with texting capability. Until another messaging service attains that same level of ubiquity, it looks like texting will be sticking around.