Is SMS the Quintessential User Interface Design?

5 minute read

Team Mobile Messaging

More and more companies invested in building their brand are pouring more money into mobile marketing. And while bigger budgets for mobile might imply the development of mobile apps, a new article by Wired Magazine points out that companies may have to look no further for a unique interface or well designed app. Why is that? Because it’s already here – in the form of text messaging. As Wired Magazine points out, chat is a universal UI, and an elegant design solution to fit every mobile marketer’s need. Here are the top three reasons why SMS is the ideal user interface.

Reason #1: Text messaging opens up the scope of consumer interaction

Imagine an app that allows you to do everything: make purchases, find entertainment, chat with friends, and plan your day. Imagine that you don’t need to learn how to use it; that in fact, your phone comes pre-installed with the capability. Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s a reality that’s being brought to life today by text messaging. Companies such as Magic, Cloe, and GoButler – which all use text messaging as their main interface – have surged in popularity in recent months. The waitlists for these programs alone are a testament to the demand for these new type of services, not to mention the extensive coverage they’ve received in the media.

Why is text messaging surfacing as such the popular alternative to the mobile app? The answer lies in text messaging’s most basic function: chat. A simple two-way communication channel opens up the scope of consumer interaction in a way that apps cannot. More specifically, an app limits the way a person can communicate with you by defining a finite set of actions. But texting allows people to text pretty much anything they want, even if it’s ‘wrong’ or off-script. This, in turn, gives companies flexibility in offering services and the opportunity to personalize their responses.

Reason #2: Text messaging eliminates the need for redundant apps

Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve probably experienced icon overflow – when the excess amounts of mobile apps on your phone makes it more difficult rather than more simple to navigate your day-to-day life. Instead of making things easier (the intended effect of mobile apps), they make your life more complicated.

The rise of text messaging as a multifunctional tool is in many ways an intuitive one, since text messaging counteracts the trend set in place by mobile app development. It allows users to accomplish a multitude of tasks from one place, all while retaining the functionality that mobile apps are supposed to provide. Indeed, texting is already the most used data application across all cell phones. Most people check their phone several times an hour, even if they don’t have any new messages.

In addition, minimizing the number of steps needed for a customer to complete a task is the ultimate goal for any business. With text messaging, you don’t have to close your current app, swipe to another screen on your phone, and then go another series of additional steps to get what you want. You simply go straight to your most-used app, type what you want, and receive an answer within seconds on the same screen.

Reason #3: Text messaging’s familiarity allows for more efficient interactions

wireless, mobility and communications concept: businessman hand holding a phone with chat app on the screen

The elegance of text messaging’s interface lies in its simplicity: it’s easy to use, and personal. As blogger Jonathan Libov pointed out in a blog post on messaging based interfaces: “In contrast to a GUI [graphical user interface] that defines rules for each interaction – rules which, frustratingly, change from app to app – text-based, conversational interactions are liberating in their familiarity.” Text messages make it clear and obvious how people should respond to an incoming message, no learning curve required. Indeed, “there aren’t many things easier than downloading an app and tapping a few virtual buttons with your finger, but sending a text message might be one of them.” The consumer’s familiarity with SMS equips them with a crystal clear understanding of how to operate the service.

By allowing users to communicate the way they usually do, SMS becomes, in a way, the universal platform, and thereby accommodating the needs of everyone. Three different people can ask a question in three different ways; but a computer program – or a person – can interpret the texts as the same query and send the proper response back.

The flexibility of text messaging has resulted in more and more companies using SMS as their basic user interface. Some use it for simple notifications: Seamless notifies you when your food is on the way, and airlines now routinely text out real-time flight information. All-inclusive concierge services, like GoButler and Cloe, are on the other end of the spectrum. An entire range of functionality exists between those two poles. The common thread, however, is that text messaging usage is consistently rising.

In summary, text messaging bests the best mobile app in three fundamental ways. First, its one-to-one chat function opens up the scope of user interaction in a way that apps cannot. Second, this expanded functionality eliminates the need for redundant apps, thereby simplifying the user’s experience (and their mobile phone’s screen). And third, text messaging’s familiar, intimate design makes it an intuitive choice for consumers and marketers alike. If you’d like to learn more about getting started with a text messaging campaign, we’d love to talk to you.

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