In June 1997, Americans sent about 1.2 million text messages per month. Five years later, that number had jumped to 930.7 million, no doubt thanks in part to the QWERTY-equipped BlackBerry and Palm Treo smartphones that were available at the turn of the century. By 2007, Americans were sending 28.9 billion messages per month.
In 2012, we send 184.3 billion text messages per month, with an annual rate that totals a staggering 2.27 trillion messages.
That number has probably peaked, though, and is ready to begin a slow descent thanks to what are called over-the-top (OTT) messaging services. OTT services are those that work around a carrier's SMS messaging infrastructure and use their data networks, instead.
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We've already begun to nail SMS into its coffin with the following eight tools:
1. BBM: BlackBerry Messenger is one of the oldest and most-used OTT services available. This service lets BlackBerry owners send free BBMs to other BlackBerry devices. BBM is baked into every BlackBerry, and it will gain new features next year when RIM releases BlackBerry 10.
2. ChatOn: You may not have heard of ChatOn, a multi-platform messaging service developed in part by Samsung. If you've bought a Galaxy S III, Note II or other Samsung handset in recent months, ChatOn is on board. It works over a data connection and lets Samsung device owners send messages for free. ChatOn works on Android, BlackBerry and iOS devices.
3. Facebook: Facebook has become an alternative to many things, including traditional mobile email. The Facebook smartphone app, which is available to Android, BlackBerry, iOS and Windows Phone platforms, lets people avoid SMS messages entirely through a dedicated email/messaging client, as well as instant messaging tools.
4. Google Talk: Google Talk is an instant messaging client that was born within Gmail, but is also part of every Android handset. It can be used to conduct two-way conversations with other GTalk users using desktops and/or Android devices.
5. Google Voice: Google Voice, which is available as an app on Android and iOS devices, is not only a messaging platform, but a full-fledged telephony service. It can be used on smartphones to connect calls over a carrier's cellular network, as well as to send free messages via data to most numbers.
6. iMessage: iMessage is Apple's answer to BBM. It works on iPhones, iPads, iPods and Mac desktop computers. iMessage can send messages over cellular networks as well as data networks. Messages sent to other iMessage users are automatically sent over the data network, but iMessage will send a normal SMS to non-iMessage users.
7. Skype: Skype has been around for a long time. It can be used to replace voice and messaging services on smartphones. Microsoft, which now owns Skype, intends to integrate the platform with its Windows Live messaging service to create an uber instant messaging client for Windows Phones and other devices. Skype is available to Android, BlackBerry, iOS and Windows Phone devices.
8. Twitter: Seasoned Twitter users will send one another Direct Messages -- or DMs -- rather than SMS messages. Twitter probably did not intend for its DM service to become an SMS workaround, but that's one way it's being utilized by savvy mobile device owners. Twitter is available to most platforms, and on the mobile Web.
Of course, there a multitude of other options out there. These are simply some of the more popular ones.
Revised language in section 5 to clarify that Google Voice itself is not a VoIP service.