The iPhone 4S introduction reminds us to be wary of rampant speculation with regard to what Apple will do next. Very likely, the vast majority expected introduction of the iPhone 5, which didn’t happen. While I agree that the iPhone 4S is a very nice device, indeed, I can’t help but notice all of the tweets, polls and articles asking people how disappointed they are that the iPhone 5 was not introduced. My goodness – many sites were showing “spy photos,” and cases to fit this supposed device. For me, I fell for the hype – I expected the iPhone 5; however, now that I’ve had a chance to more deeply look into the iPhone 4S, I am quite impressed with it. Given that I’ve been using my own 3GS for almost two or so years, now, I’m very happy to upgrade to a 4S as soon as it is available.
iOS 5 will be released very shortly. With the iPhone 4S and its new Siri Voice recognition interface, this, with iOS 5, will make for a powerful combination. An integral part of iOS 5 is iMessage. iMessage is really an over-the-top messaging capability for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices to enable users to send both text and multimedia messages. It supports such notions such as delivery receipts and real-time typing indications – much in the same way various IM services work. iMessage is integrated into the default “Messaging” app on iOS 5 devices.
This also means that iPhone users can still text people that do not have an iOS device – and guess what will happen? The message will be delivered as a standard SMS (or MMS – if multimedia content is included) message. That means all texts to Android, BlackBerry and non-smartphone devices will be telecom, standards-based SMS or MMS. So don’t throw out your messaging plans, just yet. iMessage is only free when going to iOS to iOS. Furthermore, if you are an iPod Touch user or iPad user, you have no default telephone number associated with your device. This would make it impossible to send messages to non-iOS devices or for people using those devices to reach you.
Consequently, iOS 5 and iMessage do not spell the end of SMS. Any writer or blogger (and there have been many, recently) who thinks so does not understand the messaging ecosystem. Neither BlackBerry Messenger nor the SMS-enabled, over-the-top service providers (we call the NUVOs – Network Unaffiliated Virtual Operators), have spelled the end of SMS. However, based on how iPhone iMessage “falls-back” to SMS may shed further light on the shortcomings of some of the non-SMS interoperable app-to-app “texting” apps out there.
Still, iMessage itself has some shortcomings. Virtually all of the SMS-enabled NUVOs provide apps for iPads, as well as Android tablets and iPod Touches. These devices, through the NUVO service, are enabled with telephone numbers (some, if not most, will support multiple devices for the same number), meaning any SMS user may address messages to a standard telephone number and the NUVO subscriber would receive the message on whatever device they are using at the time. This provides significantly more functionality for the user than does iMessage.
Now, with the upcoming Siri Voice interface on the new iPhone 4S along with iMessage as well as the core group of NUVO services, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Will the innovations of Siri-based voice-initiated messaging make its way to all of the various NUVO apps? One NUVO service provider told me that they believe they will be able to voice-enable their app using the Siri interface on the iPhone 4S. Whether or not they can enable users to define their app as the “default” texting app accessible via voice is still up in the air. ertainly, with this as an option, the NUVO apps can only become even more powerful and functional.
All of this points to a cacophony of messaging options, all vying for the attention of the smartphone – particularly the iPhone – user. What it does tell us that despite all of the hype about the Death of SMS, the reality is that SMS messaging, like the new iPhone, is alive and well and will not go anywhere in the near future. As long as we have multiple devices, multiple operating systems, multiple service providers, there will always be SMS. And if you examine the most well used, most functional and popular “messaging” apps in the ecosystem, they all still have one thing in common. They all leverage SMS. It could be said that SMS is the closest thing we have and may ever have to a “universal messaging medium.”
William Dudley is group director, Product Management, at Sybase 365.