The text message (SMS) recently celebrated its 20th birthday, but according to Ofcom in the first half of 2012 there was decline in the volume of text messages sent.
More and more of us are using cheap instant messaging services like WhatsApp and Skype and social networking websites like Facebook instead of traditional text messages to keep in touch.
If you’re on a PAYG tariff then using a service like Skype over WiFi (see below) is definitely worth doing, but it’s also worth considering for Pay Monthly users.
Pay monthly mobile phone contracts include an allowance of minutes, texts and data. If you are an avid texter and go over this you'll be charged for each individual message, prices range from 10p (Three) to 15p (T-Mobile), depending on the network.
What you might not realise is that picture messaging isn’t included in the majority of phone tariffs, so you’ll be charged every time you send a photo multimedia message (MMS).
Network charges vary: O2 and Vodafone charge 35p, Orange 30.6p, T-Mobile 30p, Three 25p and giffgaff 16p, although some offer photo bundles where you pay a fixed amount for a number of messages. Send 10 extra texts and five multimedia messages a month and your bill could increase by nearly £5.
Free or cheap?
Don’t panic - there’s no reason to stop texting or sharing pictures. Whether you’ve got an Android, Apple, BlackBerry or Windows Phone smartphone, there are some fantastic apps for sending messages or photos.
Use WiFi at home or via a free hotspot and the apps won’t cost a penny to use, if you want to use 3G, then factor in the size of your existing data allowance. WhatsApp (for example) uses around 3KB of data for a short message containing text, so you can send around 340 messages and use just 1MB of data - hardly anything.
Be slightly more cautious when sending a photo message though - WhatsApp uses around 90KB of data, equating to 10 pictures per MB or over 100 pictures per 100MB*
If you're on an unlimited data get messaging, however if your data allowance is very small, use WiFi.
Cheap messaging apps
Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone
WhatsApp Messenger is an extremely versatile cross-platform app compatible with Windows, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Nokia S60 phones. Use it to send text messages, photos, videos, or voice notes to anyone in the world for over WiFi or 3G, provided they’ve got the app.
There’s no need to invite friends - once installed the app will automatically search your contacts for other WhatsApp users and display them as contacts.
Like Skype and FaceBook Messenger, WhatsApp Messenger runs in the background and push notifications can alert you when new messages arrive.
Priced 69p or free for a year (depending on your operating system) WhatsApp Messenger is the most versatile messaging system we’ve seen and one of the easiest to use.
iMessage is Apple’s proprietary messaging service enabling iPhone, iPad and iPod users to send text messages and photos to other iOS users for free over WiFI. It is one of the easiest messaging apps to use, as long as iMessage has been activated (via the Settings menu) it works automatically when you message other iOS users. iMessages are blue and SMS’s green.
Unlike the other apps here, iMessage integrates with the native Messages app on your iPhone and works automatically when you’re connected to a recognised WiFi hotspot or have a 3G mobile data connection available. It works between devices too - start a conversation on your iPhone and continue it on your iPad.
Simple to activate and seamless to use, if you’re an iOS user turn on iMessage and save your money - it’s just a shame it it only works between Apple devices.
Android, BlackBerry, iOS
If you are one of the millions of people who uses Facebook, Facebook Messenger is worth checking out. Separate to the main app, but with a near identical UI, it’s an expanded version of your Facebook Inbox for sending messages, photos and even audio clips to contacts over WiFi or 3G. Push notifications inform you of new messages, so you don’t have to continually check your phone.
If you are a Facebook fanatic this is the messaging app to use and Facebook is rumoured to be trialling a voice call feature, enabling users to make free voice calls - potentially saving even more money.
Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone
Skype is perhaps most famous for its video calling service, but you can also use it as an IM client to communicate across multiple mobile phone operating systems. Set up an account, search for your friends and you can converse and send files (including photos and videos) over WiFi or 3G.
Skype is easy to use and extremely popular, it’s also the best choice if you want an app that works near-seamlessly between a computer and smartphone.
BlackBerry Messenger or BBM is RIM’s instant messaging service. Unlike the other apps here it’s free to use - BlackBerry handsets are sold on BlackBerry data plans that include BBM use.
Register for a BlackBerry ID and you’ll get a PIN code, add BBM contacts by sharing PINs with other BlackBerry users; via your address book or by scanning QR codes. Send messages, photos or voice recordings to individuals or groups and new messages appear as alerts on the homescreen.
BBM uses RIM’s encrypted connections and servers making it the most secure method of communicating and essential for BlackBerry users. However it’s not much use if all your friends and family are Android or iOS users.
*Please note these calculations are to be used as a guide only. The amount of data used will vary depending on the size of the picture and any compression applied.