It's been hailed for its succinctness and blamed for everything from sore thumbs to the decline of conversation. Love it or hate it, the text message is 20 years old.
The first-ever text message was sent December 3, 1992, by software engineer Neil Papworth, to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis, who received the message on his husky Orbitel 901 cell phone. It read simply, "Merry Christmas."
As of Monday, the text is no longer in its teens -- the age group it's probably most associated with. In fact, it's more of a senior citizen in technology years.
At just 190 bytes and 160 characters, the modest text message isn't the most glamorous or elaborate form of communication, and that's a major reason it's become so pervasive.
Texting is popular around the world, across age groups and cultures, because it is simple, concise, and compatible with every mobile device, whether it's a $500 smartphone or a disposable flip phone.
Six billion SMS (short message service) messages are sent every day in the United States, according to Forrester Research, and over 2.2 trillion are sent a year. Globally, 8.6 trillion text messages are sent each year, according to Portio Research.
It seems tacky to bring this up on its birthday, but this may also be the year the text message peaks. After two decades of constant growth, text messaging is finally slowing down as people move to smartphones and use third-party messaging tools to circumvent wireless carriers' costly per-text charges.
SMS messaging is expected to be a $150 billion-a-year industry in 2013, with carriers charging set monthly fees for unlimited texting, or as much as 20 cents per text. The actual cost to carriers for sending a text message is about 0.03 cents.
By using popular apps and services, including Apple's iMessage, Facebook messages, GroupMe and WhatsApp, smartphone users can send all the texts they want over Wi-Fi or cellular networks without paying per message. But smartphones still only account for 50% of all cell phones, so text messaging is likely to be around for years to come.
SOURCE: Heather Kelly, CNN