History of Text Messaging

November 7, 2017
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Even though it’s become part of everyday life, it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that texting wasn’t such a big deal. Once upon a time, we left the house with no cell phone. Now, however, texting has offered us an efficient way to communicate- whether it’s to alert someone of an emergency, cancellation, that you’re running late, or even to make a date. How did it come to be, though?

The History
Short message service (SMS, or text) can send messages between cell phones, or from a PC to a cell phone. Short came from the fact that initially they were comprised of just 160 characters (so no matter how long you’d write your message to fit it into one text, it was charged per 160 characters).

The concept came about in 1984, developed by GSM’s Bernard Ghillebaert and Friedhelm Hillebrand. The first text message, though, was sent back in 1992 by Neil Papworth to Richard Jarvis, or Vodafone. It said Merry Christmas.

The majority of early handsets didn’t support text messages, the first gateway for SMS was network notifications. This was usually to alert the user they had a voicemail message.

The first manufacturer to support SMS text messaging service was Nokia in 1993, and in 1997 Nokia produced the first ever mobile phone that offered a full keyboard: it was the Nokia 9000i.

Just like any new technology, it’s initial growth was slow. In 1995 the average American sent .4 texts per month. As time went on, though, networks and phones were better adapted for SMS use. By 1999 texts could be exchanged between networks, thus increasing its usefulness- this saw the average monthly text usage rise to 35 per person by the year 2000.

Types of Texting
The first method was multi-tap with each number connected to multiple letters. You would need to tap each number multiple times to get the letter you wanted, which could make texting frustrating as you tried to send quick replies.

Then came T9, also known as predictive text. Simply press one number and your device would suggest specific complete words- the T9 improved as it became familiar with the users frequently used phrases and words. T9 was invented by Cliff Kushler in the 90’s and it was in 2011 that he invented Swype. This was a touchscreen feature that allowed users to connect the dots between letters.

The full keyboard was introduced in 1997 and became popular through the early 2000’s. It was in 2007 we met the first smartphone with a touchscreen interface. We had suddenly graduated to correction, automatic spell check and speedy texting like never before. Virtual keyboards are now the standard.

It was in 2007 that for the first time ever Americans were sending and receiving text messages more than they were phone calls. Twitter capitalizes on the same short character format of SMS- encouraging users to be concise. All of these new forms of communication like Skype and social media require internet. While text messages are now included in unlimited packages, making them the affordable option for keeping in contact with friends. It’s still the most widely used data application across the world, and 81% of mobile phone owners still text.

SMS has gone beyond texting, though- we receive alerts, updates, offers, banking info and more- just like that.