As the smartphone space becomes increasingly commoditized, the obvious next step is to make hardware choice a function of ecosystem choice. That’s already happened for some of the obvious features (marketplaces for music, video, and books), but the next step is delivering ecosystem-specific features for core phone functionality. Probably one of the features I use the most on a device is messaging, and since iMessage is nearly a year old, I couldn’t help but think more about why I feel a back-of-my-mind longing for it whenever I go back to a device that’s strictly SMS. Also, a recent influx of weird SMS issues I encountered while chatting with a friend prompted both a twitter rant and me deciding to finally get all of this down somewhere.

So here’s a simple bulleted list about some of the things I don’t miss about SMS:

  • Split messages at the 160 character limit
    • The caveat here is that some carriers do indeed properly concatenate messages, but this usually only works if both sender and recipient are on the same carrier. The Verizon -> AT&T exchange used to properly implement this, back when the CDMA iPhone 4 came out, but it later was broken and inexplicably never fixed. Part of me wonders whether iMessage wasn’t spawned partially because of this annoyance.
  • Messages arriving out of order, sometimes as a result of the split from the character limit
    • This is a continual annoyance, there’s no greater way to break the flow of a conversation than by having replies arrive completely out of order. Also SMS is predominantly circuit switched, and not an IP based protocol. Obviously BBM/iMessage just work over the internet, and aren’t tied to having a working cellular session.
  • No delivery guarantee, SMS is best effort delivery only
  • Duplicate SMSes as a result of carriers implementing proprietary systems to mitigate SMS’ best effort delivery system
    • Verizon seems to be particularly aggressive about this. I still would like to know more about just how their system determines when to re-send a particular SMS, but I sometimes get 3 or 4 of the same SMS from Verizon subs.
  • No read reports or delivery status reports (at least on most new smartphone OSes that don’t implement SMS delivery receipts)
    • Delivery reports are actually a pretty common feature for SMS (usually just uses a prefix), but implementation varies from carrier to carrier and is a big mess. I suspect this is the reason smartphone platforms tend to implement it at random, if at all.
  • Delivery time is sometimes very long depending on SMSC load
    • Try getting an SMS delivered on New Years, I dare you.
  • Image sizes are smaller and more compressed for MMS, different for each carrier and up to the exchange to accommodate and tailor to sizes
    • This is set on iOS in the carrier bundle
    • iMessage can deliver full quality images if both sender and recipient are on WiFi
  • The price of an SMS
    • $0.11 per message is downright absurd

RIM understood the importance of having a platform-specific messaging product with BBM, specifically in both the platform lock-in and loyalty that this kind of feature adds. There’s a certain amount of potential energy that it takes to overcome both this messaging tie-in when switching platforms, and users can readily identify the differences. Apple clearly got this and delivered with iMessage, and I expect that having a messaging platform that spans the smartphone, tablet, and desktop will make that potential energy to escape to another ecosystem even harder to overcome. There’s a certain message or conversational velocity that makes BBM and iMessage feel entirely different from traditional IM, yet faster than the sometimes minute-delayed SMS.

Currently Google’s messaging “product” is Google Chat, but the acquisition of Meebo and other internal rumblings make me strongly suspect that a more cohesive and mobile-oriented messaging product with the same BBM/iMessage like conversational velocity is coming, maybe even at Google I/O 2012. There’s so much at work here which both shifts the balance of power away from the carriers and also makes the whole messaging experience better by sharing it with the tablet and desktop.