One feature of our recent Virgin Mobile pay-as-you-go phone service has been the usefulness of SMS messaging. I know that this is huge in Europe, Asia, Australia, etc (for many reasons) but I'm just glomming onto and really loving texting. Let me tell you why...
Well, as you may or may not know, Gail's phone is pay-as-you-go, so making or receiving calls cost money. That's fine, since we knew this going in and realized that even so, we wouldn't use up many minutes because of our phone usage patterns. However, shortly after getting the phone for Gail, I did some research at the Virgin Mobile website and learned that SMS messages can be sent from email mailers, using @vmobl.com after your mobile number and to the receiver of these email/SMS messages, there is no charge for them. Cool!
Once I put two and two together, it hit me that SMS messaging could greatly reduce our minute usages, because I can SMS a short tidbit that I might normally call Gail about. This is great in the case of Gail off shopping and I realize I need something: I can just create a short email with "Need Milk" in the subject line, send it, and she'll get an SMS.
End result: we save $0.25 for a one-minute call (or more if the message is more complex) and still get the message through. These little bits of savings really add up when you're paying for every minute of voice service. We've already used this feature for Gail's and Dad's Virgin Mobile phones, and it works really well for us.
Yesterday I popped by MobileWhack, a new weblog I've recently discovered and saw a tidbit about using Mac iChat to send SMSes! The original info came from PowerPage (a great resource for Powerbook users), and it works great! I tested this feature using iChat on my OS X box and then had my brother Steve try it with the Windows version of AOL IM.
In a nutshell, you select "Chat with Person" in iChat or AOL IM and where you would put their IM address, just enter the mobile phone address preceded by +1 for the US (e.g. +11234567890). I cannot verify if this works internationally, but it seems that if that +1 is there, you might be able to use the international code (+49 for Germany as an example) and send an SMS to a phone with SMS anywhere in the world. I might have to get a few international friends to test my theory.
One PowerPage comment says that this feature is US only currently, but may be extended in the future. Can't say either way what's true, but It'd still be interesting to test out.
That's why I'm loving SMS. I'm sure it will be very handy when I head to California in February for the DevCon, since Gail can send messages via SMS without needing to get me by phone while I'm in meetings. I can certainly see why SMS and "texting" is so popular around the world, and I suspect it will continue to grow in the US as more people get mobile phones. I'm just pleased it works so well for us.