In today’s world, texting is a ubiquitous form of communication, but it had humble beginnings. Let’s journey through the history of texting, highlighting the key milestones highlighted in the beautiful series of infographics below from SimpleTexting.
1992: The First Text Message
- On December 3, 1992, in the U.K., the first-ever text message was sent.
- Engineer Neil Papworth sent the message Merry Christmas from a computer to Richard Jarvis’s cell phone at Vodafone.
1993: Birth of Commercial Texting
- In June 1993, engineer Brennan Hayden sent the first commercial text message in Los Angeles. It simply said, burp.
- Finnish mobile manufacturer Nokia debuted the first mobile phone capable of sending texts, though initially limited to the same network.
1994-1995: Finland Leads the Way
- In 1994, Radiolinja became the first network in the world to offer a commercial person-to-person SMS text messaging service.
- In 1995, Telecom Finland launched SMS text messaging, and the two networks offered cross-network SMS functionality, making Finland the first country to offer SMS on a commercial scale.
1995: SMS Comes to the U.S.
- On November 15, 1995, SMS arrived in the United States when Sprint Spectrum launched the first text messaging service.
- The initial call to launch the network was made by Vice President Al Gore in Washington D.C.
1999: Cross-Network Texting in the U.S.
- Texting became more accessible in the U.S. as users could send messages to others outside their service provider.
- Phone contracts became more affordable, and cell phones grew smaller, paving the way for widespread texting.
2000: The Texting Revolution
- In 2000, texting took off in the U.S., with the average SMS subscriber sending 35 text messages monthly, a significant increase from 1995.
- The Wall Street Journal called texting “a new fever” among college students.
- Popular texting abbreviations like OMG, JK, LOL, and ROFL began to emerge.
2001: The 160-Character Limit
- Texting adopted a 160-character limit, leading to the rise of “Textspeak,” slang, and abbreviations.
- Phrases like LOL, JK, and OMG became part of everyday language.
2002: The Era of 3G
- Network providers like Verizon and AT&T introduced some of the first 3G networks in the U.S., enhancing the texting experience.
- Mobile technology continued to advance.
2002-2003: Accessibility and Innovation
- Texting became even more accessible thanks to the launch of modern cell phones like Blackberry and the Motorola “Razor” phone.
- These devices featured innovative keyboard designs, making texting faster and more convenient.
January 2003: AT&T and American Idol
- AT&T Wireless sponsors American Idol Season 2, enabling voting for contestants via text message.
- A staggering 7.5 million text messages were sent to American Idol that season.
2003: Birth of Bulk SMS
- In 2003, bulk SMS was born with the invention of 5 and 6-digit shortcodes.
- These shortcodes revolutionized bulk text messaging, offering businesses a new way to market to consumers.
2003: Rise of SMS Marketing
- Big brands started leveraging bulk text messaging for marketing campaigns.
- Notable SMS marketing campaigns included Pontiac’s G6 giveaway and Nike’s sneaker design campaign in Times Square.
April 2005: The Vatican’s Mass Text Message
- The Vatican press office in Rome sent a mass text message alert to thousands of journalists, breaking the news of Pope John Paul II’s death.
2005: The Emergence of “Sexting”
- Los Angeles Times journalist, Gina Piccalo, wrote about the rise of “sext messaging” trends in the U.S.
2005: Samsung’s VoiceMode
- Samsung launched VoiceMode, the first-ever speech-to-text app for cell phones.
2006: Texting in Politics
- Texting entered the political arena in the U.S., with both political parties using it to raise money, organize “get-out-the-vote” efforts, and advertise political rallies.
July 15, 2006: The Birth of Twitter
- Twitter was released to the American public, marking a new era of “short-form” writing.
- Tweets could not exceed 140 characters, influencing how Americans texted more concisely.
2007: The iPhone Revolution
- Apple launched the first iPhone, changing the texting game.
- The iPhone introduced a multi-touch interface, virtual keyboards with larger keys, automatic spell check, predictive text technology, and the ability to learn new words.
February 2008: United Way’s “Text-to-Donate” Campaign
- United Way launched the first-ever “text-to-donate” campaign during a 10-second Super Bowl commercial.
September 2008: Texting Surpasses Phone Calls
- Nielsen research revealed that text messages sent per month surpassed phone calls for the first time.
- The average U.S. subscriber sent 357 text messages per month compared to 204 phone calls per month.
November 2008: The Birth of Emoji
- Apple introduced the first emoji font and keyboard through a free software update for Japanese iPhone users.
2008: Texting in Presidential Elections
- During the 2008 presidential election, text messages became a significant tool for candidates.
- Obama supporters received text messages directly from the campaign, including announcements like Joe Biden as his vice-presidential running mate.
May 2009: Texting Skyrockets in the U.S.
- Texting saw a significant surge in the U.S. with 286 million SMS subscribers.
- The average subscriber sent 534 messages per month.
- Carriers like Verizon Wireless and AT&T charged 20 to 25 cents per message, or $20 for unlimited texts.
September 2009: Multimedia Messaging (MMS) Arrives
- AT&T released a carrier update, making MMS available for U.S. iPhone users.
- Messages could now include photos, videos, or website links, and group texts via MMS gained popularity.
2009: WhatsApp Revolution
- WhatsApp was founded, allowing users across different countries to send text messages for free with a Wi-Fi connection.
2010: Texting Goes Mainstream
- 72% of adult cellphone users in the U.S. were now sending text messages.
- “Texting” was officially added to the Cambridge Dictionary.
- QR codes became widely adopted as a mobile marketing strategy.
August 2010: Distracted Driving Awareness
- A study by AAA & Seventeen found that 46% of teens admitted to being distracted behind the wheel due to texting.
2010: Texting on a Global Scale
- Texting reached new heights with the International Telecommunications Union reporting 200,000 texts sent every minute.
- A staggering 6.1 trillion texts were sent across the globe in 2010.
April 2011: Apple Introduces Siri
- Apple launched Siri, the iconic personal assistant, enabling users to send and dictate text messages using voice recognition technology.
2012: iMessage and the Blue vs. Green Bubble
- Apple launched iMessage, sparking the “war” between blue and green message bubbles.
- Users could message one another without needing cell service.
2013: The Rise of Giphy
- Giphy was founded, and animated GIFs began to dominate social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and group text threads.
2015: Emojis Get an Update
- iOS 8.3 was released with new emojis for the first time in three years.
- Additional skin tone options and family emojis with same-sex parents were introduced.
2019: Celebrities Share Their Numbers
- Celebrities like Kerry Washington, Jake Paul, and Ashton Kutcher started sharing their cell phone numbers on Twitter, inviting followers to text them for input on various topics.
March 2020: SMS for COVID-19 Alerts
- Governments turned to SMS for COVID-19 alerts.
- Local and state governments launched COVID text message alert systems, providing subscribers with real-time information about COVID outbreaks and quarantine policies.
Today: Texting is Ubiquitous
It is estimated that 23 billion texts are sent worldwide on a daily basis. Texting has become as ubiquitous as coffee and has forever changed the world of communications.
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Originally Published on Martech Zone: The History of Text Messaging (Updated for 2023)