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The humble text message, know also as ‘the purest form of profit’, has been with us for almost 20 years.

But today it seems as if the SMS is staring down the barrel of a gun, with new data showing that messages declined in key markets over the Christmas period.

texting

Finland, where the first commercial texting service was launched, saw the number of messages sent using the Sonera network on Christmas Eve drop by 2.4 million, from 10.9 million to 8.5 million.

A Forbes report also pointed to a 14 per cent fall in Hong Kong, another early SMS adopter. So, what’s to blame? It seems fair and obvious to lay the blame at the proliferation of free offerings such as Apple’s iMessage, Research in Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and, to a lesser extent, What’s App.

blackberry messenger

That’s before we mention the breeziness with which you can contact friends using social networks via smartphones.

The increasingly dominant position of the latter across key markets, allied with generous data packages, means users no longer feel the pressing need to resort to texts to share information with others.

The question is, when does the text stop being a default service for users and take a back seat? It could be much sooner than many tech observers think.

It’s widely agreed that iMessage will not remain as a simple SMS alternative, but become a full blown IM offering, with the chance to contact friends using Macs and PCs, as well as iPhones. Code buried in recent releases of iOS 5 certainly points that way.

imessage ios5

For all BlackBerry’s decline, BBM is rampant among younger users and you can bet that as RIM looks to reinvigorate itself this year, it’ll aim to offer ever cheaper handsets, hooking in more new users to its well-loved messaging service.

You can also wager that Windows Phone, whether it’s with next month’s Tango update or a later software bump, will come to market with something similar to try and convince punters accustomed to gratis native messaging apps to switch OS.

With the pace of change seen over the past five years, it’d be unwise to claim that the text has more than a few years left at the top of the tree.

That will raise profound and worrying questions for networks used to creaming cash from them, and will give succor to manufacturers and OS makers looking to generate more revenue beyond just volume of sales.

As deeper social network and free message integration grows, text messaging could be a goner very soon indeed.

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