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EDITORIAL Will the Apple RCS deal hit WhatsApp much harder than SMS?

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So, Apple has finally done the deed and embraced RCS messaging, then? Great. You could be forgiven for asking why did it take so long? We are nearly in 2024, not far off the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the iPhone, yet until now – well until late 2024 when Apple introduces RCS support into its iOS update – those with different phones were having to send texts. Green messages if you still spoke to anyone who wasn’t a fellow Apple user.

But what does this mean for SMS? Is RCS going to replace it? After all, it was referred to as SMS 2.0 about 15 years ago when it was first mooted. The answer appears to be no – not yet anyway.

SMS isn’t going anywhere just yet: A2P messaging is only just getting going and, while a lot of businesses are using SMS to reach out to customers, most aren’t. The potential for SMS in marketing is still enormous. And all those OTPs don’t need rich messaging.

However, SMS is in trouble. SMS authentication traffic is predicted to only grow 4% next year as artificial inflation of traffic (AIT) and pumping, along with other fraud worries are starting to see some businesses that do use it to question just how safe it actually is.

Similarly, MNOs are staring into a $3bn SMS blackhole on their balance sheets over the next five years as increasing numbers of business users look to swap to OTT messaging, typically WhatsApp. The era of SMS may well be on its way out.

But the real victim of the RCS-Apple move could well be WhatsApp. While businesses are looking anew at WhatsApp to deliver the rich and engaging experience that modern marketing demands, the ability for RCS to reach all phone users could well see it become as ubiquitous as SMS. SMS’s success has always been predicated on the fact that it can reach all mobile users. If RCS can do the same then surely it is likely to be something that everyone is interested in from a business perspective. In this sense it could well be SMS 2.0.

The Apple deal suddenly makes RCS look like a really good option for operators. It is something that many of them have got behind, but looking from the outside, they seem to be lacklustre in their adoption, largely because it was confined to one lot of users. Now it looks much more exciting and useful. I expect to see RCS now starting to get a much more serious push worldwide. In the UK supermarket Asda is one of the few big brands using RCS. It now looks very much like it was an outlier and very much backed the right horse.

There also the growing feeling among consumers that WhatsApp’s tendency to show people that you are online and that you have received and read messages is falling from favour. More consumers are looking for the ability to park messages much as they do with emails. Email used to be immediate, now is a bit like snail mail, where you respond in your own time.

Messaging – certainly peer-to-peer – is going a similar way. Still more immediate, but not necessarily instant. That is more for DMs on social, yet even here many older users are starting to pull away from being perma-available.

This shift – subtle as it is – among consumer messaging habits does have a profound impact on the messaging industry. It certainly changes the game with brands using it to reach consumers ‘in the moment’. Now they may not want to be caught in the act. Understanding how to adapt to this is perhaps more of a challenge than which messaging channel to use. A challenge that is going to be hard to answer.

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