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Instant messaging leaves traditional SMS texting in the dust

The use of chat apps has exploded recently, with the number of messages sent via app-based messaging services eclipsing the rate of traditional text messages, according to a new report.

In 2012, an average of 19.1 billion app-based messages were sent per day compared to the average of 17.6 billion texts, according to Pamela Clark-Dickson, a senior analyst at Informa Telecom & Media.

Over-the-top (OTT) messaging applications are downloadable apps for smartphones that enable users to send instant messages for free to other users with the same application (like iMessage, WhatsApp, and Blackberry Messenger). P2P SMS refers to texting.

Although there are more P2P SMS users (3.5 billion) than there are OTT messaging users (586.3 million), each OTT user sends an average of 32.6 messages a day in comparison to five texts a day per SMS user, Informa found. At this rate, Informa forecasts that an average of 41 billion chat messages will be sent by the end of 2013, compared to 19.5 billion SMS messages.

According to Informa, the increasing use of OTT messaging by smartphone owners has made a dent in mobile operaters' SMS traffic and revenue in some countries. In 2011 alone, SMS revenues in Spain was reduced to €758.5 million (£642.8m) from €1.1 billion (£932.2m) in 2007.

Still, SMS is unlikely to be wiped out just yet for three major reasons, Informa said. Chat apps are useless when the person you want to contact is on a different platform or doesn't have the same app on their smartphone. Also, texting is still more universally reliable since any person with a mobile phone (smartphone or basic mobile phone) can do it. Meanwhile, SMS is just starting to take off in the enterprise mobile messaging market.

Back in November, tech analyst Chetan Sharma found that text messaging was on the decline thanks to the rise in popularity of Apple's iMessage app. During the third quarter of 2012, "there was a decline in both the total number of messages as well as the total messaging revenue in the market" for the first time in western markets, Sharma said at the time.