On Twitter and SMS and Why it Shouldn't Matter to iPhone Users

iPhone 3.0 Mobile iChat

In case you haven't read it already, our editor-in-chief, Dieter Bohn, has an outstanding article up at sibling-site WMExperts highlighting his top 5 reasons Twitter is better than SMS (and vice versa).

There's a lot of intertube fuss about SMS lately, as a recent New York Times article once again shone the spotlight on the disgustingly dirty price gouging (and potential fixing) that goes on when it comes to SMS rates in North America. Basically, SMS (at 160 bytes/characters) is ridiculously cheap for the carriers to transmit, no matter what the scale, and yet the prices have doubled from $0.10 to $0.20 on many networks over the last few years. Voice, by contrast, involves much more data and is much more "expensive" in terms of infrastructure costs. North Americans will pay ludicrous sums of money for "cheap" SMS but not for "expensive" voice, so the carriers take advantage.

Dieter points out that the cost, community, compatibility, control, and context of Twitter give it a clear advantage of SMS, even as the discoverability, dilution of quality, dropping 20 characters, downtime, and potential delays in notification (outside the US) make it still far from perfect.

Flaws and all, Dieter is moving towards Twitter (@backlon) and away from SMS. Am I going to do the same? I already have (@reneritchie) and without really considering it. But here's the thing -- I have considered that not only should I not have to consider it, I don't think any iPhone user should. (Or any @theiphoneblog follower either!)

I mentioned in my return to the iPhone 3G Round Robin final review that one of the things I'd like to see for the iPhone is a Mobile iChat app, but really taken to the next level. BlackBerry PIN messenger is what puts the "crack" in CrackBerry.com and an always on, multi-tasking Mobile iChat client would go a long way to putting some in the iPhone as well. Beyond that, however, Apple is famous for being the one company that really understands something truly significant for consumer end users:

The interface is the application.

There's already an SMS client on the iPhone, and guess what? It already kind of looks like iChat. If Apple stuck a Mobile iChat client on as well, it could look functionally identical. So why, then, would Apple need to add that client? Some Twitter clients looks functionally very similar to iChat already as well. Why, then, would we need separate Twitter clients?

From a user-perspective, abstracting an application away from the pipes that feed it is a huge win. Take Mobile Mail for example, you can setup a Gmail, Exchange, MobileMe, or other email account, yet the app itself looks and functions the same regardless. Add one account, take another away, and the user experience doesn't change. This means that, behind the scenes, you can pretty much muck around with the pipes, improve them, swap an old one out for a new one, drop a troublesome one for a reliable one, all with very low impact on the front end -- maybe even no impact at all. It's transparent to the end user.

Now imagine there was a presence client on the iPhone -- I'll stick with calling it Mobile iChat to keep it simple. You set up your SMS account, your Twitter, your AIM, MobileMe, Jabber, Google Chat... whatever and then you have one consistent UI that elegantly handles and presents your conversations to you. If one pipe disappears, like Pownce, you just delete that account or foward to another. If a new pipe shows up, like BlackBerry announces PIN-like messenger for the iPhone (breathe Kevin, breathe!) you just add it in.

There are, of course, a bunch of reasons why this isn't likely to happen, and lots of people who prefer to keep their cookies all in separate jars anyway. My personal belief remains, however, that this is the future, and the iPhone is the device that's going to bring us the closest and the fastest to that future.

Of course, there will always be a place for "better" dedicated client apps that provide unique, rich features focused on a single protocol, but who knows, with push email, maybe all inter-personal text communications could eventually fold into a single unified, consistent, experience. It would, at the very least, be nice to have as a hyper-productivity meets connectivity option. wouldn't it?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

On Twitter and SMS and Why it Shouldn't Matter to iPhone Users


This is something I totally agree with in Europe SMS is significantly cheaper. Twitter is the easier tool if it could be integrated like the SMS client

Twitter makes absolutely no sense at all to me. I joined a few months ago and still see no way of communicating with anyone.

Fact is you can SMS to nearly any handset on any network made in the last 6 year. You can MMS pictures to almost any camera phone made in the last 3 years, accept the iPhone and a few WM phones.
To Twitter, you need a PDA/Smartphone for the most part, SMS integration was cut off from Canada because of the cost, and you need a Twitter account. This makes the whole thing a lot less convenient.
Personally I think IM (MSN/GTalk/Etc) will basically replace SMS as more phones support it. Now if the iPhone could only receive those type of messages in the background like every other smartphone can already.

I agree. IM is the replacement for SMS. Using Twitter is like buying drugs or a gun on the streets... you have to know someone who's already involved in that community for an intelligible explanation of what's it's about. Their web site Help page is useless. Less convenient, indeed.

I don't want Twitter because:
a)Any handset can get a text.
b)I don't want to sign up for any more web services, I have too many already.
c)I don't want social applications, not facebook not twitter not any of them.
d)I don't want to talk with anyone I wouldn't give my phone number to.
What I do want is for people to stop telling me what I should want (especially Apple) and give me what I do want which is Multi-Media SMS on my iPhone (that's along with copy and paste, spell check in mail, multi signatures in mail, the ability to take video, the ability to manage files on the phone and a few other goodies that every other Smart Phone in the world has).

It's unfortunate that mobile email did not take off in Europe as it did in Japan. As then SMS wouldnt have taken off to the degree it did over here and we'd probably all be rocking mobile emails to eachother instead.
But I dont see Twitter or any mobile chat application replacing SMS until it is an industry standard. As other people have mentioned. SMS works on every handset produced in the last several years. (In the UK i can remember having my first SMS enabled handset, an Ericsson, in 1998) There could be an amazing iPhone mobile iChat application tomorrow, but as i only know one other person with an iPhone it would be severally limited in scope sas far as actually communicating goes!

"The interface is the application."
Well said.
Reminds me of McLuhan's famous statement, "the medium is the message," from his book, "Understanding Media."
He writes, "this is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology. [...] Many people would be disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message" (p. 23).
Indeed, Apple knows this all too well.

I agree that IM will replace SMS over the next few years, but it will take one thing for it to happen, and that's for all the 'big' IM providers (MSN Live Messenger, AIM, Yahoo etc) to switch to Jabber for their messaging protocol. Until the IM industry settles on communication standard so anyone on any service can message anyone else (like you can with email), it's just not going to catch on.
So far Google are the only large player to use Jabber as their protocol.

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