Friday, November 11, 2011

iPhone alternatives to AT&T's texting fees

AT&T is facing the end of SMS. So it is mandating data plans for even unlocked smartphones while raising SMS costs.

In our case, our unlimited texting fees are equal our family's two new and unwanted 200MB/month data plans. So we're looking for SMS alternatives. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

I revised reviewed Facebook Messenger last week, but it's really more of an IM app than a texting replacement. Fortunately, SMS alternatives are a popular topic these days. Lifehacker did a review for iOS and another for Android recently; in fact both reviews are of interest to iOS users. Here are some of the services they listed and others I know of. I don't like ads, so I'm listing ad-free costs where applicable.

  • Google Voice: free (for now). Emily and the 3 kids all have GV numbers, though currently only i use the service regularly (I have two GV accounts).
  • Textfree: The web site is virtually content free. The iPhone app is TextFree with Voice, a year of ad-free texting is an in app purchase for $6. Phone numbers are also purchased in app. Facebook chat.
  • HeyWire: ad supported. iPhone app has ad-free in app purchase ($5/year) and option for "premium number" ($1). Facebook chat support.
  • textPlus: $3 to remove ads, $1 for premium number, credits cost money (for what?).

I gather the ads in these products are not necessarily child-safe.

Plugging these strings into Google turns up some related products (most can't receive SMS, some can send)...

  • Kik Messenger: No SMS, this is an IM app like Facebook Messenger
  • Yahoo Messenger
  • AOL Messenger

If an app doesn't come with a number though, it's not what we're looking for. We need to be able to receive SMS messages.

Lastly I came across some useful articles in my research:

From Dudley I learn that services with a phone number are called NUVOs (Network Unaffiliated Virtual Operators) and OTT (Over-The-Top) service providers, and that in the telecomm industry Sprint's decision to integrate Google Voice into their Android phones was a really big deal (giving up on SMS early). I also see why Apple's iMessenger is much more acceptable to AT&T than, say, Google Voice.

For our family I think we'll begin with Google Voice, even though it's not nearly as elegant a solution on the iPhone as it is on Android. My next choice is probably HeyWire, simply because two friends use it.

Update 11/13/11: I checked out iTunes reviews on PingChat!, Kik, and WhatsApp.

PingChat! and Kik seem to have high ratings, but the majority of the reviews are "13 yo girl seeking chat" (hopefully an FBI agent seeking pedophiles, probably a con man). WhatsApp costs $1, that seems to be enough to eliminate the "personals" reviews. WhatsApp is a Silicon Valley telephony app. I think I'll give that one a try first.

We may also create FB accounts for <13 yo children (COPPA violation) so they can use FB Messenger, but not give them the account passwords.

More on WhatsApp

I like the look and feel of the app, but it has one killer bug. The point of using this app is to eliminate SMS use, but it uses a text message to verify accounts. (Correction: if you don't have texting it will time out and confirm by voice call. It does require a phone number however, which is a definite drawback.)

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