According to a new report by the consulting firm Chetan Sharma, text messaging is declining for the first time in America. Cell phone users sent an average of 678 texts a month in the third quarter of this year, which is a decline from the previous quarter’s high of 696 texts a month.
While nearly 700 texts a month may sound like a lot, users aged 18–24 sent roughly 3,200 texts a month according to a 2011 Pew report. Ninety-five percent of this cohort owned cell phones and 97% of these owners used the text messaging feature. These users are currently propping up overall text messaging levels. Nevertheless, they are rapidly switching over to smartphones with data plans. Overall, about 75% of new mobile phone purchases were of smartphones this past quarter and the market is still expending to the 70% of households without them.
On top of that, corporate use of text messaging is also falling. It’s admittedly flimsy evidence, but The New York Times cites one firm whose clients were observing their employees text 5–10% less this year. Anecdotal evidence elsewhere seems to confirm this.
Services like Apple’s iMessage use internet-based data plans to send texts, rather than the wireless phone connections that “regular” texting uses. It’s this service and others like that are believed to be behind the fall in text messaging. A study of Finnish iPhone users found that texting dropped by 14% this year, while data usage shot up by nearly 70%.
With more than 50% of mobile users owning smart phones, it’s expected that this trend will continue. America is not the only market to see a decline in texting. Most other developed markets have seen declines for quite some time, especially in Western Europe. Texting emerged earlier in these countries and saw an equally early peak.
The mobile industry’s revenues aren’t expected to change much because of this trend (assuming it continues). Data plans can be pretty lucrative—as text plans were in previous years—making up nearly 43% of revenues the industry’s revenues today.
Twenty years after the first text message was sent we may be at the start of its long slide to irrelevance. “Fear nt 4 the future, weep nt 4 the past.”