SMS: The ultimate cross-platform mobile app

There’s a lot to consider when designing a mobile product or service. Users can be anywhere, at any time, on or off a network and – crucially – on many different types of device. In fact, how (or even if) to target users on different platforms has become a hot debate – there are advocates for mobile web, native applications, multi-platform solutions and hybrids of all. In truth none are perfect yet with technologies (and user adoption) moving at such a rate that today’s good decision may not stand-up next year.

Discussions of this sort where much in evidence at the MEF Americas conference I recently attended too. The big players seemed to be hedging their bets – treating all their current efforts as ‘research’ and ready to switch back and forth. This ‘watching and monitoring approach is much the same as the one we’ve adopted with Tribal’s mobile products.

There was, however, another strand to this conversation – SMS. It’s multi-platform, completely ubiquitous and hugely popular (one in three US teens send over 100 SMS messages per day according to Pew) and often overlooked… Whilst person-to-person SMS revenues for mobile network operators are being eroded by social networking and ‘over the top’ services like Apple’s iMessage, several participants were keen to point out that the ‘long tail’ for SMS would actually be ‘application to person’ messaging – especially as location context can now widely be applied.

At the event I spoke to John Orlando from Sixth Sense Media in a short interview summarising a panel session which covered this topic:

In the video John focuses on marketing, but I believe the point is valid far more widely. Monitoring my own usage, in the last month I’ve received SMS alerts:

  • that a ferry I was due to travel on was fully-booked so extra check-in time was required;
  •  that a package was due for delivery that day in a specific hour time-slot (with the option to reply to re-schedule);
  • of large transactions taking place on my bank account (planned ones thankfully!);
  • that an opticians appointment (booked weeks ago) is due; and
  • that the credit on a parking meter was about to expire.

In each case the organisation in question has a mobile ‘presence’ (mobile web or app) offering more complex features but I don’t have it installed / bookmarked – mostly because I’m not a frequent enough user. However, text-based alerting through SMS vastly improved my customer experience, got my repeat business or ensured I stayed a customer. Simple but effective.

Next time we’re discussing a new mobile product for Tribal I’ll be considering if some or all of its user interaction could be done in this way…

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About Ben Smith

Ben has ten years experience in management consulting, building and managing IT Services for government organisations. He specialises in open data and mobile technology, which he has presents and writes about regularly and is interested in processes and approaches to fostering innovative environments. Follow Ben on Twitter.
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