Short Message Service (SMS) winning the mobility battle?

A new report from mobility expert, Tomi Ahonen,  shows that SMS has already become the most widely used text messaging application by all users in the world (53%), and even more by mobile users (78%). This reflects a shift from “real-time” voice calls that may run into “unavailability” problems and go to “voicemail jail”, to more practical “near real-time,” immediate message notification and delivery that another study reports will usually be responded to within five minutes.

A 2009 study by Lightspeed Research in the UK showed that 11% of mobile users didn’t initiate any voice calls at all,  while in the U.S., the percentage was even higher, 13%.

I am sure you are all familiar with seeing a user with a ringing cell phone often just looking to see who it is from then simply letting it go to a messaging function. Lately, voicemail-to-text services have taken care of caller voice messages by transcribing them automatically to text messages. So, whether the contact initiator chooses to use voice or not, the contact recipient can still deal with voice messages more efficiently than with voice mail interfaces.

From a UC perspective, where I include “process-to-person” contacts in addition to “person-to-person” contacts, text messaging and SMS are an obvious choice for personalized, pro-active, automated, time-sensitive notifications from a business process application, commonly referred to as Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP), because business applications don’t really want to generate voice messages instead of their usual text message output.  (If the recipient requires a speech interface because they are driving a car, we can let them selectively exploit “unified messaging’  options based on their presence status.

With the rapid growth of screen-based, multi-modal smart-phones, the flexibility of input and output can be extended to end users independently of whether they are contact initiators or recipients/respondents for SMS. In addition, however, with the power of UC and presence, SMS exchanges can be easily escalated to real-time Instant Messaging and/or “click-to call” voice connections when appropriate.  This makes conversational voice calls more manageable from both a caller’s and callee’s perspective, and reduces the unnecessary problems generated by “blind” call attempts and voicemail’s retrieval limitations.

Needless to say, SMS itself doesn’t satisfy all the informational needs of users involved in a business process, but provides an efficient,  timely, mobile contact interaction to people wherever they are, along with links to the real information required for the business process, e.g., email. However, SMS is used 2.6 times more than email by mobile users. The key to efficient information exchange is to make timely and efficient contact first, not have conversations or deliver documents. Clearly, UC will be successful with its different forms of communication applications,  if it can exploit mobility for accessing individual recipients as quickly and flexibly as possible.

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