The value of text messaging

Today we look into mobile computing, this time on the issue of text messaging over wireless phones. This column has a global reach, as I heard from many readers from other parts of the world who chimed in with their opinions on why text messaging was valuable to them.

Today we look into mobile computing, this time on the issue of text messaging over wireless phones.

This column has a global reach, as I heard from many readers from other parts of the world who chimed in with their opinions on why text messaging was valuable to them.

From a reader in France: "You don't use SMS [short message service] because you don't want to be disturbed at the restaurant - you send an SMS to

send/receive fine-grained information. Talking requires you to be proactive and synchronous -- SMS, as email, is asynchronous -- you fire a message and the answer could come in 20 seconds later or never. You don't have to think about the availability of the other person.

"I send SMS to all the students of my study group to schedule a meeting or to inform them I will be late. It would take much more time (by setting up a conference call, or leaving voicemail, etc) by talking.

"Another example: I was keeping my parents updated of my travel in Greece using SMS, giving the chance to send information when I wanted versus trying to call them before they went to sleep."

Another reader offers other reasons for using text messaging: "In Hong Kong, for example, you can receive updated stock information, weather, news and speed-trap locations sent directly to your phone. For people who travel a lot, it is useful in the GSM phones to send quick messages without the off chance of waking them in another time zone. You can also send messages anytime and know it will be waiting for the recipient on the other end."

Computer-to-phone text messages were also highlighted as useful: "We have a customer-service website that lets customers very securely track order status, even down to the GPS-delivered location of the delivery trucks. Many of our warehouse-level customers do not have time to spend at a desk, on a computer, browsing the web, as they are unloading trucks, helping customers, etc. However, we noticed that most of them had a Nextel radio/cellphone with SMS support on their belts. We built them a simple way for them to mark 'hot orders' whose movement they want to track in detail -- we then generate SMS text messages to their belt phone as the order is shipped and the carrier makes ready to deliver. I am not a big fan of person-to-person cell phone-based text messaging. However, machines that generate text messages and send them [to phones] for status purposes is a great idea."

Yet another reader told me how users in Singapore are using their phones: "I noticed that a big group of IT folks were waiting to hear about a friend and his very pregnant wife. While we were out to lunch one day, all their phones beeped and they had a message with the birth details. They were constantly sending messages to each other and I think I was the only person who did not have a working cellphone for the week I was there. I would love to see the price come down here in the US and then I would consider giving my text messaging address to a few folks."

Many readers pointed out that pricing for text messaging is much cheaper than voice airtime costs. From the Philippines: "Telecom carriers here once offered unlimited texting, then shifted to free text messages up to a certain point, then the user pays about 2 cents per message. If you want to get the word out that there's a party tonight, all you have to do is write the text message, then send via multiple recipients. What would have been, say 20 separate calls and confirmations, is now compressed into just one message. Then you have the luxury of your friends texting back their RSVPs."

Of course, there has to be a cynic in the crowd: "I think it's a waste of thumb power. Even with the shortcuts and predictive text doo-dahs, it's too much work to send anything meaningful."

Finally, my favourite email, from a teacher: "My students are often getting their mobiles confiscated for the period because they are text messaging each other from class to class."

Whatever happened to passing paper notes?

Shaw is reviews editor at US IDG publication Network World. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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