The first text message was sent 20 years ago today, and texting is now more popular than talking, according to British telecoms regulator Ofcom.
The first ever Short message Service (SMS) was sent on 3 December 1992, when a 22-year-old British engineer called Neil Papworth used his computer to send the message ‘Merry Christmas’ to an Orbitel 901 mobile phone.
“When texting was first conceived, many saw it as nothing more than a niche service,” says James Thickett, Ofcom’s director of research.
“But texts have now surpassed traditional phone calls and meeting face to face as the most frequent way of keeping in touch for UK adults, revolutionising the way we socialise, work and network.”
However, while texting may still be hugely popular, it’s on the decline in many countries. A recent report from Chetan Sharma Consulting found that the average US phone user is now sending 678 texts per month, compared with 696 this time last year.
Other types of messaging, such as Skype, iMessage or Facebook, are becoming more popular and eating into texting’s market share.
There’s a similar picture in the UK, where the average consumer now sends around 50 text messages every week. But the first half of 2012 saw two quarterly declines in the volume of SMS messages sent in the UK at 39.1 billion and 38.5 billion respectively, down from their Q4 2011 peak of 39.7 billion.
“For the first time in the history of mobile phones, SMS volumes are showing signs of decline,” says Thickett.
“However, the availability of a wider range of communications tools like instant messaging and social networking sites, mean that people might be sending fewer SMS messages, but they are ‘texting’ more than ever before.”