Number of UK text messages falls as phone users turn to smartphone apps
New generation of UK smartphone users turn to instant messaging apps instead of SMS
The Guardian in London
It's been GR8, 1DRFUL and often LOL, but OMG, the text message has finally passed its prime.
After two decades in which texting transformed the English language, turned reality show voting into a national event and earned billions for mobile operators, the number of messages sent in Britain fell for the first time last year.
As a new generation of smartphone owners turn to internet-based instant message services such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, research shows the volume of old-fashioned texts sent last year is estimated to have fallen by seven billion to 145 billion.
Accounting firm Deloitte's annual technology predictions report forecasts the number will fall again this year to 140 billion.
The head of telecoms research at Deloitte, Paul Lee, said: "This is the first decline in texting in the UK since texting was invented. We have reached a tipping point. But the usage of mobile phones to send messages is stronger than ever. This year, trillions of instant messages will be sent in place of a text message."
Younger users are turning away from the SMS (short messaging service) in favour of instant messaging apps that, at a fraction of the price, allow them to communicate with several people simultaneously, use brightly coloured icons, and send photos and videos.
The trend began in the US and is now spreading worldwide. About 160 billion instant messages were sent in Britain last year, outstripping the number of texts for the first time. By the end of 2014, 300 billion instant messages will be sent - more than twice the annual number of texts.
The first text message was sent from Vodafone's headquarters in Newbury, England, on December 3, 1992, by engineer Neil Papworth. As mobile phones did not have alphabetical keyboards then, he used his computer to wish a Merry Christmas to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis on his Orbitel 901 mobile phone.
Nokia produced the first mobile phone capable of writing texts in 1993, and what had started as a free service became a commercial one in the 1990s. By 2001, the UK was sending more than one billion texts a month.
Later that year, text messages were used to organise the protests that toppled president Joseph Estrada in the Philippines.
But by 2011, instant messaging had replaced the text as the demonstrator's most effective grapevine.