Tip o' the Week: Free SMS from your iPhone

With the advent of the App Store where you can download AIM for free, there is now a way to send SMS messages for free.  This method is brought to you by Jeff Carlson of Tidbits.com and will comprise this week's Tip!  (Important note: the following method is only proven to work in the U.S.)

When I picked up my shiny black iPhone 3G last Friday, I knew I was going to have to pay the inevitable rate increase for data (another $10 smackers a month).  I also knew I would (hissing a curse under my breath) lose my built-in 200 text messages per month.  AT&T's SMS packages offer a laughable range of offerings:  $5 a month for 200 messages, then an Olympian leap to $15 for 1500 messages and $20 for unlimited.  What, no room for $10 a month for, say, 750 or 1000 messages?  But I digress.

The basic idea goes thusly: AIM (and thus your AIM app on your iPhone) is able to send free text messages by sending them to +13522225555 (or whatever the phone number is).  There's a bit more to it, of course, so be sure to click on through and read Carlson's walkthrough.

(Post updated since publication by request)

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There are 20 comments. Add yours.

ematts says:

I tried this doing everything from the iPhone and after hitting send, I got "Unable to send IM...Your message was blocked from being sent."
The new account (phone number) I set-up was on AIM adding it to the iPhone, never on the desktop.
I used screenname as the number in AIM. I tried this on 2 different cell phone numbers.

Earless puppy says:

question:
If aim allowed you to attach a picture from the camera roll to a IM, this would solve half the MMS issue

Rollo Martins says:

I suggest someone go there and write an entirely new SMS app which includes SMS, MMS, such options as just mentioned in the article and some more missing features (like precise time stamps, a display of the number of chars you already entered, and, finally, A BIGGER FIELD TO ENTER THE TEXT. That loophole is definitely too small, you can hardly scroll...). I'd pay 20 bucks. And I guess some more people would...

Brian Hart says:

ematts, you need to set up the number on your desktop app. I opened up iChat on my Mac, added my other cell # per instructions (i.e., +18015551212), and it works like a charm. The key is creating the new "user" from your desktop. Hope this helps!

Chris Pepper says:

Brian,
It would have been better to write your 2-para intro, and then link to Jeff's article http://db.tidbits.com/article/9690 directly. The TidBITS license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ under which Jeff published specifically does not permit derivative articles like this one.
Also, it's sad that you don't credit Jeff in the byline, since you used so much of his content -- topic, photos, and specifics.

Brian Hart says:

Thanks for your concerns, Chris. The posting has been updated to address the concerns. The process is simple enough that screenshots are probably not necessary, and they have been removed. I also wish to point out that I did take pains to give credit to both Jeff Carlson and TidBITS.com (link provided to his article) in the original write-up. I hope this addresses your concerns as we all enjoy TidBITS.com over here.

Dieter Bohn says:

Article updated. Though I guess we could argue that methods fall under patent law instead of copyright law, we certainly don't want to create any bad feelings. :D Plus, we'd probably be wrong anyway.

Chris Pepper says:

Thanks for making those changes, Brian.

David says:

This works like a charm. I wonder how much of a drain having AIM open will be on my battery though.

David says:

And just to be clear, if AIM is not active on the window, we won't receive the messages from others right?

stuart says:

I can add buddies - but whether added via the iPhone AOL app or via iChat, mobile numbers immediately go Offline once added, and then whenever I try to send a message I'm told "AOL Error: The other person appears to be currently offline". If it makes a difference, I'm in the UK. Has anyone else seen this, or worked out a way around it?

Andrew says:

OK, here's my question... can people REPLY to your messages? and, if so, where will the replies get delivered to???

Thom says:

I set this up and sent an IM to two different people. Both of them couldn't not reply. It says No Reply Allowed. Any suggestions? Thank you

Brian Hart says:

@Andrew and Thom: first, thanks for your comments! Hopefully I can answer both of your questions at once. In my experience, I've been able to send the text message via AIM to the recipient. I did this just now, sending the AIM message to another cell phone number I have. It arrived at my other phone as a standard text message. I replied, like normal, and the reply message appeared as a response in AIM (so keep AIM running when you do this). Try again and see if it works. Remember that, as far as I know, this only works in the U.S. and could be carrier-specific (but I have no idea).

Thom says:

Brian thank you. When you responded did you create a new text message from the phone where you sent the IM from iPhone AIM and that's how it appeared in the AIM? The problem my friends had is they couldn't respond directly from the text from AIM that I sent. Thanks again

Thom says:

Ooops Brian I meant "where you sent the IM from" should be "where you sent the IM to"

Brian Hart says:

@Thom - not sure what phone or service your friend is using. My experience was sending a message via AIM to my Palm Centro. The Centro received the msg as a regular text message. I merely hit 'reply' and sent a message back. I'm not sure why your friend is having difficulty replying :(

Thom says:

well I dunno...she's on ATT and it's not a smart phone or anything like that...just a regular flip phone...next time i see her I'll try it so I can watch what happens. It could be, as you know, that some people aren't into this kind of thing or don't like being techinically challenged with phones and computers etc, which I totally respect, so I'll just see what it does when I can view the phone. Thanks again Brian :)