SMS based Apps– Are they the Killer Content Delivery Mechanism ?

[Guest article by Lalit, founder of Mobisy.]

What’s great with SMS as medium?

  1. It’s one medium that can reach all the mobile users without any issues of handset compatibilities and so on
  2. It’s a push mechanism by definition
  3. It’s offline (lesser spammy than a voice call)
  4. It’s extremely cheap (at least in India)

What’s not so great?

  1. It’s very difficult to make pure SMS based communication interactive
  2. Remembering shortcode / keywords and ‘syntax’ could be a pain
  3. User experience is highly dependent on handset vendor’s implementation
  4. Delivering multilingual or any kind of rich content is not possible without considering handset compatibility.

So what if we could bring SMS based communication as a downloadable application ?

Here are some things SMS based apps can bring to the table and some reasons why I am so psyched about it.

  1. Ideal for delivering textual content : Using SMS as a data delivery mechanism for your app would mean that your user experience would be awesome. You can organize  content the way you want, you can bring in some ‘cool’ user engagement elements. You can also deliver things like local language content without depending on handset compatibility.
  2. Increase in consumption : Content consumption increases a lot  by providing facilities like search , related content, threading the content. SMS based app can provide them to you !
  3. Interactivity: This is what I like the most about these apps, they can bring in an element of interactivity which a standard SMS interface does not provide. Getting user feedback, comments and other UGC can bring about a whole lot of difference to the whole SMS based content delivery ecosystem.
  4. Alerts & Deep handset integration: As soon as you make an app, you can now get embedded in the daily life of a mobile user. One of the apps we worked on , would deliver graphic content using sms which would be shown on the Main screen of Mobile.Awesome, right?
  5. Monetization : This is the best part. Using an app would mean that in addition to existing SMS business models (enterprise sms, tailing with ads etc). You can monetize more by ease of user interactivity(user generated sms could go to your shortcode ..:-)),in application ads, way to deliver graphic content(graphic ads) , download time fees, subscription and so on.

But before you start jumping around and start working on your sms based app following are some  issues you must consider

  1. Reach : Downloadable Applications themselves have limited reach compared to plain vanilla sms. That’s to do with handset compatibility issues arising due to number of operating systems and run-times that we have in Mobile industry. In addition to that, current App Stores do not reach to all the users in the emerging markets where SMS is a huge medium. Hence it’s sometimes better to partner with handset manufacturer to deliver the app to your users. Nokia is doing it very well with Nokia Life tools for their lower end handsets.
  2. Asynchronous behavior of SMS : SMS by nature is an asynchronous medium. Which would mean that sometimes response times are as high as 5 minutes. You have to be careful while choosing your sms gateway provider , at the same time you have to set expectations of your users correctly. Some of the ‘tricks’ we have tried in past are, to get user to fill profile data while waiting for SMS , or get them to do something more in your app while they wait for response. One of the most interesting model I have come across is where a media company would deliver all the content at night for user to read it fresh in the morning (like newspaper).  Or an SMS chat application which would allow users to chat with multiple people at the same time so users have something else to do while they wait for response.

Summary : Considering all above, I am surprised why popular SMS based services like Mytoday / Smsgupshup do not have a downloadable app yet. Even popular blogs like Pluggd.in should have one in my opinion. In near future with the advent of more app-stores and market awareness about mobile apps, I do believe there is going to be a flood of sms based applications.

What do you think?

[Note from Ashish: Nokia OVI users can download PI’s ovi app from here]

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