SMS losing ground to smartphone apps

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Mar 19, 2011
SMS losing ground to smartphone apps

Users switch as apps are better value, more convenient, fun to use
By Irene Tham

THE short message is this: Growth in SMS traffic is slowing.

The reason? More people now own smartphones, which have applications, or apps, allowing them to contact their friends and family in other ways.

Take business development director Aaron Koh, 34, who is just as likely to use the Facebook app on his HTC Wildfire smartphone to connect with pals.

He also uses an app called WhatsApp Messenger to send text messages as the service is free and there is no limit on the number sent.

Market research firm IDC said the slower growth of SMS traffic can be traced to the rising popularity of smartphones and their apps.

The Infocomm Development Authority started tracking SMS growth from 2004. There was strong double-digit growth every year - except in one year. Growth peaked at 70 per cent in 2008. After that, it tapered off as smartphones started hooking consumers.

Last year, two-thirds of the phones sold here were smartphones, said IDC, compared with one-third in 2009.

More consumers are migrating to smartphones for Internet access on the go and the fact that they are highly subsidised by telcos. They also come bundled with data plans.

'People are already paying for the data services. Why not use them?' said

Ms Melissa Chau, research manager of client devices at IDC Asia/Pacific.

For instance, SingTel's basic 3G Flexi Lite plan costs $39 a month, with 12GB of free data use for all 3G phone models.

Ms Chau noted that smartphone apps are also more fun to use and more intuitive than SMS. These include social networking tools Facebook and Twitter, and WhatsApp Messenger.

Consumers can take a photo with the camera on their phones and post it on their Facebook pages. They can also chat with their friends on social networks.

Ms Chau expects SMS to continue losing its shine to smartphone apps, even though most phone plans come with at least 500 free SMSes. Each additional SMS costs about five cents.

By 2015, when more than 90 per cent of the phones sold here are expected to be smartphones, SMS traffic will start to decline, Ms Chau predicts.

Still, the current SMS traffic is not to be sniffed at. Last December, an average of 2.4 billion SMSes were sent and received over the SingTel, StarHub and M1 networks.

The Straits Times understands that the SMS volume in recent years includes more messages sent by companies to consumers.

These include bank advertisements for loans, alerts about condominium launches from property agents, and promotions announced by retailers when consumers are in the vicinity.

Social worker Paul Teo, 38, said he gets at least five such promotional messages daily.

Civil servant Pauline Tan, 36, said up to 50 per cent of the SMSes she gets are spam.

'I've been getting a lot of property SMSes lately. It's irritating,' she added.

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