Tuesday, June 07, 2011

SMS are going away, so are the revenues

The amount of news out of the WWDC keynote is staggering. Apple has announced three different products, all interconnected, threatening dozens of startups and lifting some (glad to be in the second category ;-)

One thing that did not get much visibility, as one of the 10 features of iOS5: iMessage. It is a built-in instant messaging product, one that will work on all iOS devices (and, I am assuming, Mac and PC down the road).

What is it? Simply: texting. It is the new SMS. It replaces SMS. And it does it transparently, because you receive a message that looks like an SMS and you reply with a message that looks like an SMS. The UI on the iPhone is exactly the same (and it works on iPads too, also the wi-fi only ones).

The difference? It uses your data plan. Very few bytes of it. It is practically free for the end user.

Nothing new: one of the most used feature of BlackBerry is BBM or BlackBerry Messaging. It is what is allowing RIM to stay afloat in emerging markets.

I know this announcement seems small. It is just an instant message product, right? However, it is huge, not only for RIM (sorry for them) but mostly for the mobile operators. Because it comes from the big gorilla.

SMS is by far the most lucrative product ever conceived by a mobile operator (it was an accident, BTW ;-) The amount of money they make with texting is insane, considering the network is practically not used at all.

It is all going away. It will happen slowly, of course. And there is an issue with interoperability between devices because it will work only within the Apple silo. But it is a sign. The direction is clear. SMS are going away, and so are the revenues attached to it.

Years ago I mentioned to a mobile operator that SMS were going away, eventually, and that they would have to move up the food chain (I went all the way saying that voice is a data type and that it will go as well, just wait...). He told me it was not going to happen. The carriers had too much control to let this slip away from them. "They can take everything, but not the cash cow". My answer was: "I spoke a few years back to a fax manufacturer who said the same thing about email"...

Guess what? The cash cow is going. If you are a carrier, you better move up the chain fast, because it is not going to last.