Many could see this coming: the end of text messages as we know them. From carriers around the world offering SMS bundles and packages as part of their contracts, all that people ask is that the smartphone in question will be able to run WhatsApp. I witnessed this recently at an Orange shop where a surprisingly knowledgable salesperson was asked if Nokia's Lumia 800 could be able to run Viber to make free international calls.
I acknowledge I'm an appfreak and maybe my point of view is distorted. I'm not expecting top management in carriers to keep track of the most downloaded App Store apps. Even if they hear the Viber ringtone every ten minutes in their offices. It doesn't take much effort to realise that an app that allows users to surpass the carrier dominance over messaging is now being bundled with the most popular smartphone - the iPhone and its iMessage, and that WhatsApp is the only non-game app that seems to keep up with the pace of Angry Birds on the charts.
1. Out of the box texting alternative
There's nothing to setup and no sign-up forms. In an effort to keep things simple for the user, you're asked only once if you want to attempt to send your texts using iMessage - directly from the same app where you use to send your SMS. There are some glitches when either sender or receiver isn't connected to a 3G or Wi-Fi network, but in my experience so far, iMessage tries to deliver it even if it has to do it both for free and on traditional SMS - yes, those duplicates you get from time to time.
2. Wider pool of devices
Since Apple launched its very own fee texting service iMessage, fanboys have been raving about it but the truth is that the common app shopper already knew the benefits of Ping and WhatsApp. Note that the popular iPod Touch doesn't have any SMS bundle or carrier plan.
In a fantastic editorial about the service, Graham Spencer from MacStories highlights the importance of including the iPad in the game, making it less dependent from alternative such as Twitter's direct messages or Facebook's own alternative.
3. No need to add any contact
The killer feature of iMessage is that, unlike GameCenter, you'll never need to ask any of your contacts if they have a compatible iOS device. Apple automatically ties your mobile number and your iTunes ID to make the whole thing seamless.
In the same way, the rest of the texting apps are pretty much lurking your Address Book to cross-check who is using their service. I wrote about privacy a while ago, and this doesn't seem to keep people away from them. Remember the tedious times of remembering your Skype username or giving your IM email? Those days are gone.
4. It's radically cheaper
I'm sure carriers aren't very happy about this iMessage business - at least what is concerned about charging for SMS and not data. You don't need to be an analyst to predict the decline in its usage since iOS 5 gives no option to the user wether to use the traditional service or not. In a recent post by the awesome Neven Mrgan "What iMessage did to my text-messaging usage" he shows how his bill has changed dramatically since he upgraded to iOS 5. I couldn't wait to check my own billing history and compare my savings - which aren't s radical.
5. No international fees
If you have friends and family living abroad, you know email is the way to go. I don't think international texts cost much to mobile operators, but they always made them look like a luxury item to me. There's definitely something going on when in my last holiday my Blackberry, Android and iPhone friends immediately asked the question "Are you on WhatsApp?".
Over the years I've used alternatives including mobile IM clients, Skype's chat and more recently Ping Pro, Viber's messages and WhatsApp. The prospect of letting iMessage gamble wether I pay or not for an international text isn't ideal, so I go for one of the third-party apps mentioned above.
As well as communicating with people in other countries, the new generation of free texting apps is the perfect choice to avoid roaming fees abroad. Again, these will use cellular data, so make sure you're on a Wi-Fi network.