Since SMS' conception in the 1980s, text
messaging hasn't changed much. Sure, over the years, smartphone
messages got longer, added photos, videos, and emoji, but their
purpose-concise communication-stayed more or less static.
Lately, the technology has experienced something akin to the
Cambrian explosion, with a
broad range of new species of messaging emerging from companies
large and small around the world.
These are stretching the purpose and possibility of the lowly
'text' in novel directions. In the process, the trend has created
one of the most effervescent, interesting technology races in
Apple is the latest to rethink messages.
During its Worldwide Developers Conference keynote on
June 15, the iPhone-maker announced that it will
open its iMessage service to developers, making it
possible to access apps like Fandango's movie ticketing service
and payment platform Square Cash without leaving a message
Users could, for instance, jointly order food with friends by
using an app like DoorDash directly in a message thread, adding
meals to the same order without having to pass a phone around.
(Apple's app for sending messages is called Messages; its service
for tying them across iPhones, iPads and Macs is called
Apple executives said Messages is the most-used app on
iPhones-and the company spent a considerable amount of time on
stage demonstrating new features. The new software, launching
later this year, will allow users to send each other animated
messages and drawings as well as collate them with stickers, not
unlike services popular abroad like China's WeChat and Japan's
One feature automatically translates text into emoji; another
will hide the contents of a message until the person receiving it
swipes away static obscuring it.
The revamp comes as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are more closely tying outside services
to their respective messaging apps, like Google's upcoming
Allo app, Facebook's Messenger, and Microsoft's Skype. Many bigger firms are no doubt
being spurred on by the success of messaging startups ranging
from the rapidly growing Snapchat and Kik to WhatsApp, which
Facebook acquired for $19 billion two
The activity in messaging reflects a shift in the way users
interact with apps. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner
Mary Meeker acknowledged the trend in her widely read annual report on the state of the
Internet, released earlier this month.
In the presentation, Meeker noted that messaging apps have the
potential to become a larger part of how we access information
and services on the Internet. Messaging apps, she predicts, could
take over the function of the home screen as a portal to various
Indeed, messaging has come to dominate the many things people do
with their phones. A Pew Research Center survey published last year
found that that text messaging is the most widely used basic
walks past the logo of Line Corp at the company's headquarters in
Globally, smartphone users are spending between 50 and 200 minutes per week in
messaging apps such as WeChat, KakaoTalk, and Line, according to
data from researcher Forrester published in 2015. But in the
U.S., people spend less time in such apps, hence the opportunity
companies like Facebook and Apple see in upgrading their
One of the reasons messaging has become so diverse is that no
company is pursuing exactly the same strategy. Apple's service,
for instance, seems to be adopting popular features from other
platforms and adding glitzy new ones but is only available on
devices the company makes. This cuts out the some billion and a half people
around the world using Google's rival Android devices.
Facebook, meanwhile, is hoping to make its Messenger app the
default communication tool on any platform, Android, iOS, or the
web. The social network giant announced June 14 that Messenger
for Android will support the ability to view SMS text messages
within the app. This means Facebook messages and regular text
messages will be collated inside its Messenger app if users chose
to opt in.
Google's Allo, which will be released later this summer for Apple
and Android devices, puts a premium on built-in search
capabilities. Beyond being able to ask a Google chatbot questions
as one might when using its search engine, Allo will proactively
make suggestions based on specific conversations.
If a friend sends a text that says something like, "Let's go out
for Italian food," the app will automatically display nearby
Italian restaurants in the conversation.
It's too soon to tell which approach will prove most durable. One
thing is for certain, the way we use our phones to message each
other won't be the same.
Read the original article on TIME.com. Copyright 2016. Follow TIME.com on Twitter.
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