Research: Smartphone Users Would Be Lost Without SMS

By Jessica Binns, Contributing Editor — May 10, 2012

New research launched by Acision, a global provider in mobile messaging, reveals that SMS is still the most prevalent messaging service in the U.S. today when compared to other messaging services such as 'Over the Top' (OTT) Instant Messaging (IM) (OTT/IM) services.

With 61% of respondents stating they own a smartphone today, 91% of this demographic reported using SMS regularly despite having the ability to access different OTT/IM messaging services on their device. In fact, the five most popular OTT/IM services actively used by smartphone owners today included Facebook (37%), Skype (17%), Twitter (17%), Apple iMessage (11%) and Blackberry Messenger (10%) – predominantly social media networks.

WhatsApp, the only operating system independent smartphone OTT/IM application was used by just 5% of U.S. consumers. This demonstrates that while OTT/IM services fuel overall messaging traffic, services are fragmented and overall usage far lower than SMS so cannot be credited as a substitute for the humble text.

The research, which was conducted by Vanson Bourne and examines U.S. consumers' messaging habits and preferences, is the most comprehensive study to date on the mobile messaging landscape. Surveying 1000 mobile U.S. device users across smartphone owners (61%) and feature phone only owners (39%), the research highlighted that two thirds of the biggest SMS users, smartphone owners, also stated they needed SMS today (65%) – with 45% of these saying they would be lost without it – even though they have easy access to OTT/IM services on a smartphone. Reliance on SMS was particularly high among younger users aged 18-25 (79%), highlighting the immense value and dependence of messaging in consumers' lives today.

The research also indicated that U.S. consumers send an average of 107 SMS messages per week – top of all the messaging services. With 62% of U.S. smartphone users having unlimited SMS bundles this concludes that the right pricing or package encourages SMS usage and may be an influencing factor in the popularity of SMS vs OTT.

With smartphone adoption amongst the highest in the world, and access to SMS alternatives available to a high number of U.S. consumers, over half of smartphone owners surveyed stated they also use SMS alternatives (55%). When asked about preference of SMS over OTT/IM messaging services, smartphone owners cited the main reasons for using SMS were core service capabilities: speed of delivery (47%), reach (43%) and reliability (38%). On the other hand, the top 3 reasons to use OTT/IM messaging services over SMS are enhanced service features: content sharing (28%), speed (27%) and works across devices (25%). Both views indicate that even though enhanced features and the user experience is important for users, core service capabilities are valued significantly higher. Only 4% of smartphone users said that IM is more reliable and faster than SMS.

While the research shows there is a continuing appetite for SMS, smartphone users are also interested in enriched SMS services. When asked about SMS based personalised services, a number of respondents stated that they would be likely to use these if offered by operators including: message delivery notifications (36%), black/white listing (33%); message search (29%); and group messaging (32%). In line with this, almost a third of respondents (28%) said they would even be willing to pay for these enhanced features. This is evidence that there is an opportunity for operators to extend the functionality and life span of text, generate premium revenues and increase customer loyalty and ARPU.

Lastly, in order to test the appetite for operator OTT/IM messaging services (e.g. RCS type services), respondents were asked to rate a service that would include IM, file transfer, group chat and video sharing, and allow them to exchange messages with all SMS and MMS users. Over half of U.S. smartphone users (52%) said they would use an operator OTT-type service, especially consumers aged between 18-34 show high interests (60%), Only 5% said they would not be interested in this type of messaging service at all. When asked about what such a service should look like, cost related elements stated as number one, two and four, including a lower price compared to the existing service (63%), inclusion in package (57%) and the service price (47%). The other three are related to the core service and that builds on the competitive strengths of SMS, namely reliability (50%), instant delivery (45%) and reach all (42%). Most popular enhanced features were named as a service that can be used across different devices (35%) and allows consumers to share content (32%).

This research is part of a wider messaging study conducted by Acision (which surveyed the U.S. and UK markets) with further results being announced over the coming months.

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