Above is a (Google) trend graph for SMS, MMS, IM and e-mail… If we look at the MMS trend chart we will see that MMS activity has remained very flat over time, an indication of the level of interest, with much lower activity when compared to SMS, IM and e-mail. This is of no surprise. SMS, IM and e-mail have followed a similar trend, with much more activity than MMS, and have remained relatively flat, with many little spikes, with SMS having occasional larger spikes. It is interesting to see how SMS, IM and e-mail are all converging as we approach the present. If you look at the trend for SMS for "right now" (end of chart), you will see that a spike is forming, indicating a new surge in SMS activity.
There has been some noise on the Web about the future of SMS and IM, some of this triggered by Ovum's John Delaney during the Global Messaging Congress. While Mr. Delaney believes that IM will take over SMS in a few (5) years (this is after SMS reaching its peak in around 3 years), others say that SMS is growing and is here to stay. While those opinions seem contradictory, both are true. Let me explain.
It is important to understand that messaging per-se consists of two parts: 1) the infrastructure that makes messaging possible, and 2) the user messaging experience. On one side of the spectrum we have the SMS and MMS infrastructure that reside and is owned by the carrier, and on the other side is IM and e-mail, which can or not be owned by the carrier, and is more inline with the “traditional Internet”.
While the technologies supporting such infrastructures are well defined and understood, the adoption trend for such infrastructures will continue to change over time, very likely towards Internet-like protocols such as e-mail and IM. This convergence is part of the evolution and adoption of the (pervasive) Internet, which is and will continue to extend directly onto the handsets themselves. There is no reason why in the future "guaranteed message delivery" is moved to the edge of the network, to the handsets themselves, decentralizing messaging, and simplifying the infrastructure.
Now, from the general usage patterns perspective, not much will change (at the high level). There are two major messaging usage patterns – deferred communication (SMS, MMS, e-mail), and direct communication (IM). There are other adjectives used to describe this kind of usage patterns such as “offline or passive” for SMS/MMS/e-mail, and “active, dynamic or real-time” for IM. But in both cases, from the mobile perspective, it is about small bursts of person-to-person communication (messages), and the related immediate and/or deferred interactions. But what will change from the perspective of mobile messaging usage patterns is the addition of “new” bits of data, new media, and enhancements that include presence, location, multimedia, general social aspects (user-generated content, groups, invites, sharing), and context-based messaging, that when all combined will enhance the general mobile messaging user experience. This next level of messaging will be driven by the "usage patterns" and "user experience" themselves, and not the underlying protocols – the network is second.
Messaging infrastructure and protocols will be abstracted, and in the short-term even combined with the goal of enhancing the user experience. Messaging infrastructures convergence (the combination of SMS/MMS and data channels) is the logical next step. Regardless of the infrastructure and protocols it is about the experience and the support of both active and passive messaging behaviors – they are complimentary. The next level of messaging is about enhanced messaging that is always on, messaging that can be active or passive based on user preferences, messaging that leverages many media channels, where presence, personal data, and social aspects are all integrated. The next level of messaging is about understanding and maximizing the mobile context and thus the messaging experience.
This obviously will have an impact on the carriers, and their current SMS/MMS revenue stream, so there is work to be done in understanding the billing side of things.