OMG! Texting turns 20
02:39 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

The first text message was sent on December 3, 1992, and read "Merry Christmas"

8.6 trillion text messages are sent each year around the world

SMS text messaging is on the decline as more people switch to third-party tools on smartphones

CNN  — 

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.

Since a birthday is a day of celebration, LOLs and HBDs, let’s take a look at some fascinating text messaging trivia.

• In the United States, 75% of teenagers text, sending an average of 60 texts a day. According to Pew Internet research, texting is teens’ most common form of communication, beating out phone conversations, social networks and old-fashioned face-to-face conversations.

• Women are twice as likely to use emoticons in text messages, but men use a wider variety of emoticons, according to a recent study by Rice University. :-)

• The practice of exchanging sexual messages or photos (yes, “sexting”) isn’t just for single people and politicians. It’s also popular among committed couples. According to a study by psychology professor Michelle Drouin, 80% of young adults in relationships sent or received naughty texts, and 60% upped the ante by exchanging photos or videos.

• Some emergency response call centers are beginning to accept text messages sent to 911. There are still lingering concerns about the practice, including lack of location information, confirmation that the message was received, and timeliness of messages. Verizon plans to launch limited SMS-to-911 services in early 2013.