Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Mobile instant messaging grows, but users still strive to have a good texting experience

This beginning of year has been marked by the 15th anniversary of the first commercial SMS sent in history (over the Vodafone UK network). In such short period of time the mobile text message became one of the world’s most popular forms of communication. Just to have an idea, it is believed that last New Year’s Eve over 43 billion SMS were sent globally by mobile phone users to wish their loved ones a happy new year. And for the course of 2008 it is estimate that 1 trillion text messages will be sent worldwide. In the UK only, new figures show that nearly 5,000 text messages are sent every second.

Motivated by the successful trajectory of the SMS, big players in the mobile market seems to be been increasingly investing in the development and diffusion of new messaging formats and technologies, such as mobile advertising, mobile email and mobile IM (Instant Messaging). The latest is actually been tipped by Mobile Europe as the technology that will have the fasted popularization in the next few years. Similar to PC-based instant messaging services, the Mobile IM is said to be already used by 26.7 million subscribers in Western Europe and in 5 years it is estimated that this figure will increase to 80 million subscribers.

In this entire scenario however, there is a detail that amazes: despite the increasing figures and the establishment of a text culture in society, manufactures and third parts still seem do be doing little to make the user life easier while texting. Typing a message today in any kind of handheld device requires the same effort as it used to a decade and a half ago.

Whoever tried to use the T9 or XT9 system (which comes embedded in many new devices in the market) might strongly agree with that. Instead to simplify the composition of messages, T9 manages to transform the task in something extremely annoying. It never seems to give the word that you want and many of the suggestions it gives are actually not valid words. Because of that, it is not surprising that many users still prefer to disable the predictive text from their phones ant type the letters one by one, like in the early days of the SMS.

A comedy sketch recently added to YouTube, and a discussion in the “SMS text news forum”, exemplify well the problem. They ponder for instance why curse words are not included in the T9 database, while lot of “silly non-words are included such as shiv, pigt, and others”.

There is who believe that such problem might affect not just people’s patience but also their social relations. According to a guide created to teach people how to use text message in romantic situations such making up and for asking out dates one of the primordial rules to be observed while texting is: don’t be a bad speller! (a tip that seems to be hard to follow if you are using T9).

It is good to know that slowly new alternatives for the annoyance of T9 start to appear in the market, such as the Adaptxt predictive text solution, already mentioned a while ago in this blog. The main advantage of this new system is that it seems to be based in artificial intelligence, instead of compression of algorithms, so there’s no “guess work” while typing a word, like in T9.

The problem is that phone makers and as carriers still seem to be reluctant to replace the redundant T9-like systems. If they could listen more to users’ complains in this matter, they probably would start to pay more attention to these new alternative solutions capable to improve the way people text.