SMS : it’s basically messaging spam

In the U.S., SMS is how we message people. We’ve got MMS for group messages and images, and SMS for everything else. Sure, the kids might be using KIK or Snapchat, but for us old folks, it’s SMS or die. SMS is so prevalent that Apple created iMessage as a way to improve upon SMS conversations between iPhone users. Facebook has it integrated into FB messenger nowadays as an attempt to convert loyal SMSers to a FB Messenger world.

The thing is, I’d heard two things about SMS in Asia:

  1. No one uses SMS here.
  2. SMS is expensive so people don’t use it.

Yeah, neither of those is true.

  1. It’s not expensive.
  2. We still use SMS, but not for reasons you might think.

Here’s why: SMS is spam.

This is an actual screenshot from my SMS app. Look, not a single personal message.

Connect to a local network carrier when traveling? Get an SMS telling you about fancy new promotions. Log into your bank account? Get an SMS telling you that you logged in. Want to use wifi at the airport? Authenticate via SMS. Use over 1GB of data? Get an SMS with that info. I get so many promotional messages via SMS that I literally never look at my messages unless I’m explicitly waiting for an authentication code from my bank (for example).

There’s a healthy percentage of iPhone users on the bus each morning, but I’ve never seen any of them use iMessage. Who wants your personal messages interleaved with mountains of SMS spam? It’s like if gmail decided to do away with the Spam folder and put all those emails back in your inbox.

Do we use SMS? Yup, but not to talk to friends. It’s for my dentist, bank, credit card company, my mobile carrier, the Uber driver…

Incredibly, the logic that “people don’t use SMS because it’s expensive” is actually backwards too. I spend a lot of time talking to people across the region about messaging, I’ve never once heard a single person mention SMS cost as an issue. It’s the wealthy who don’t use SMS because they’re overwhelmed with SMS spam and would rather use more feature-rich messaging clients. The rural poor actually still rely on SMS:

  1. They don’t want to pay for a data plan
  2. A lot of them can’t afford smartphones
  3. Data is notoriously spotty where they live, and thus SMS is fundamentally more reliable.

So, there you have it. SMS isn’t dead, it’s just spammy.

Disclaimer: All opinions on this blog are our own, and definitely don’t represent our employers, friends, grandparents or pets. It’s a way for us to record our thoughts as we learn new things about the world. We would love nothing more than for you to disagree and point out what we got wrong.

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