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