A substitute for plain text exchanges

SMS 2.0 is nothing but an intelligent browser embedded in the SMS interface. It is on its way to replace plain text messaging, reports Nivedan Prakash

Short Messaging Service or SMS is the only application that has not changed over the course of the last 10 to 15 years during which the mobile phone has been in existence. Every other service offered on mobile phones has been transformed over the years.

Now, with the changing time and technologies growing rapidly, industry players have realized that users spend a significant amount of time on messaging and this is where they have started roping in new technologies to upgrade this application, and make it a better experience for users.

This has given rise to a new application, called SMS 2.0, which is all set to add a lot of dynamism to mobile users’ lives and may prove to be an interesting substitute for plain text exchanges. A UK-based company, Affle, has developed the application. In India, it is available to Airtel users. Another company that is a forerunner in this technology is Geneva Software Technologies that developed a similar application in 2006.

Inside SMS 2.O

“We are trying to create a ‘peer-to-world’ interface on the familiar SMS platform. On a SMS 2.0 screen, users can send SMS to the people whom they know and at the same time they can also access whatever is happening in the world and read the content of their choice”

– Anuj Kumar
Executive Director, South Asia, Affle

SMS 2.0 is the improved version of the existing SMS. No doubt, features that are more interesting are added in SMS 2.0 to improve the user experience for no additional charge. Simply put, SMS 2.0 is packed with features and predominantly it adds a search capability. As a direct comparison, it is as different as seeing a notepad text file versus a Word document with all the bells and whistles.

Known as the next generation messaging application, SMS 2.0 is also being touted as an upgrade to SMS and the key value proposition is that SMS can be personalized. It is an application that goes into a user’s phone and replaces the existing SMS interface or rather upgrades it. As part of the upgradation, it allows users to personalize a particular message, adding colorful backgrounds and texts, and expressive emoticons that users normally get to see only on chat or e-mail. The second factor that makes it more interactive and different is the embedded media in this SMS interface. With SMS 2.0 on their mobile phones, when users type an SMS, their ‘Message Compose’ screen comes with teaser content at the bottom. The full screen is divided into two parts—there is a media where users can type the message and they also get some kind of information that is relevant to their area of interest. Here, users will get to see some kind of headlines at the bottom of the SMS screen, which is like a small banner that gives content of the users’ choice.

Now, when users click on the ‘Message Send’ icon, the ‘Message Sent’ visual is replaced with a full-screen visual of the teaser content. It is like a Web page that gives users full information on what is happening. The users can also engage themselves by reading more about their interest area, download wallpapers amongst other activities.

Talking about SMS 2.0, Anuj Kumar, Executive Director – South Asia, Affle, said, “Today mobile phones offer an array of services, including Internet surfing. However, users per se are not utilizing it. We ensure that instead of expecting users to change their behavior, we make all the facilities accessible in offline mode on SMS screens because that is what most users do on their mobiles.”

“So what we offer is decorative SMS to attract users and what makes users stick to the SMS screen is the value offering to look at the content of their choice every time they open their SMS window offering an Internet experience on the phone that is available for free,” added Kumar.

As stated earlier, Affle’s SMS 2.0 application has been made available by Airtel India. All users need to do is send an SMS to 543210 and download the application from Airtel Live! using the link that they receive. The application is absolutely free for Airtel subscribers and with it one can send SMS in color, use emoticons to express oneself, and access various sports, news and entertainment content of one’s choice.

V V Ravindra, Inventor and Director-Technical, Geneva Software Technologies, commented, “At Geneva, we have always been a forerunner in technology. In 2006 we developed a product which would send and receive SMS in color along with emoticons, fonts, etc. At that time, it was called as ‘Geneva Rainbow SMS’. Further, we developed yet another interesting application called the ‘Geneva Secure SMS’, which is basically an SMS with a password. The applications are unimaginable. Definitely SMS 2.0 has lot in the store for enhancing the user experience.”

How SMS 2.0 works

Essentially SMS 2.0 is packed as a mobile application, downloadable to compatible mobiles. Once downloaded, it is ready for the new generation of SMSing and sharing rich and colorful content. The application basically resides on any Symbian phone and changes the default SMS interface. It can be downloaded through the Airtel Live! portal and is absolutely free.

Explaining the technology behind SMS 2.0, Kumar said, “There are two parts to this application. The first part is the phone application that goes on the phone and replaces the SMS application. This is the proprietary application that has been written by Affle. We partner with phone manufacturers and phone operating system ISVs. Partnering with them has brought a technology to go and replace the core SMS application.”

“The second part is that the application has the capability to talk to Affle servers that resides within the operator environment i.e. Airtel or whoever is the mobile operator. These servers constantly have information that every user has defined. It keeps track of what each individual likes and ensures that the server has the capability to pull content from various servers. Finally, all the content is intelligently delivered to the right user. This is the way the whole application works, wherein it has an embedded browser that can talk to the server and releases the content dependent upon what a user likes. We need to partner with mobile operators so that the whole ecosystem is established,” added Kumar.

SMS 2.0 has been developed to offer a more personalized experience in messaging to the users. The users can send colorful text instead of drab monochrome. Along with the text, emoticons that are more interesting are added to help the users to express their emotions. An attractive feature is scheduled SMS. Users can schedule a text to be sent out in case he is caught at work or before he gets into an uncovered area.

Considering that most users are familiar with e-mail, SMS 2.0 promises to provide similar features such as sending text to e-mail, graphic and multimedia attachments. In addition, free texts can be sent out using the existing J2ME application and only paying for the GPRS connection. On the other hand, advertisements will be displayed on the screen when the users are typing a text. In this case, the information is pushed directly to the users and benefiting the advertiser.

Meanwhile, many applications can be integrated into this platform and this has the potential to become the access point for all mobile applications on the user’s handset. Applications include rich text experience with colors, emoticons, short animations, subscription services, local search, entertainment, knowledge resources, opportunity gallery, advertising, mobile marketing, amongst others.

Yin Fern Ko, Research Analyst, Technical Insights (ICT), Frost & Sullivan, pointed out, “SMS 2.0 is an application that facilitates the user to send colorful messages. The applications are messaging and employing emoticons. It cannot be perceived as a platform like the new Android by Open Mobile Handset Alliance (OMA) and Google Inc. Rather, it is simply a mobile application.”

Currently, SMS 2.0 application works on handsets that support the installation of the application like the Symbian-based handsets. Hence, the lower-end handsets may not be compatible with SMS 2.0 yet. Says Yin, “Till date, only a few selected handsets are compliant to SMS 2.0, such as Nokia Series 60 phones, version 7 and 8.” The question remains whether low-end handsets would be able to support the graphical requirements for the new messaging application.

One seamless application

Here it will be right to say that SMS 2.0 has brought together messaging, content, search and marketing into one seamless application, merging these four domains into a single user interface. SMS 2.0 is not only about messaging, but it also flashes relevant content on to the user’s screen, which if he desires, he can click on and retrieve. This means that marketers can use it to announce their latest products to the right target group.

What’s more important and challenging is the immediate ramp up of the service enhancements from content providers to service the new generation of SMS 2.0 users.

The new application creates an interactive channel for the non-intrusive delivery of relevant content and advertising on a single SMS window. It leaves the customer with abilities to choose a particular interest area.

SMS vs. SMS 2.0

Kumar explained, “Text messages are great peer-to-peer message exchanging platform. Now on the same SMS, we are trying to create a ‘peer-to-world’ interface. On this SMS 2.0 screen, users can not only send SMS to the friends but can also access whatever is happening in the world and read content of their choice. It is creating a paradigm shift in the field of communication.”

“In a conventional way, user doesn’t have much choice in sending or receiving an SMS. With SMS 2.0, user can add fonts, colors, emoticons, expressions to the content and deliver it in the same way,” said Ravindra.

Lastly, this question arises whether SMS 2.0 is going to totally replace plain text messaging technology. Plain text messaging still has its own charm. Whereas, SMS 2.0 is an application-based service that is compatible only with few high-end select handsets such as Nokia Series 60 phones and versions 7 and 8, or rather say the Symbian based handsets.

Moreover, only two companies—India based Airtel and Singapore based M1 have exclusive rights to this SMS version. Therefore, the service is limited to specific service providers and cell phone brands. However, the application is more interactive and because it possesses converged features, it may deliver fierce competition to existing mobile messaging services.

Meanwhile, plain text messaging is compatible on all handsets and hence both plain text messaging and SMS 2.0 will continue to have their own place. Kumar concluded, “For the next couple of years, we expect both the technologies to co-exist. Right now, our primary target audience or the early adopters are the medium and high-end handsets that have the hardware as well as software to support this kind of application. But at the same time when other handsets also become powerful, we will replace them as well.”

Vanilla SMS remains the simplest delivery mechanism around.