Several years ago I sat at a lunchtime event in an upstairs room of a small cafe in Nebwury, Berkshire, UK. Not a very posh place, but it’s where Vodafone announced to the local business community that it was working on something called “GSM” which would take mobile phones into the next era. It all sounded very grand and exciting; nowadays with broadband, even 3G is looking tired – GSM is history. However, the same company that brought us the excitement of GSM was also behind another three letter acronym – SMS, text messaging. Vodafone’s engineers had invented text messaging as part of their internal system. However, no-one thought there was a use for it. Indeed, the entire mobile phone industry hid away SMS capabilities for several years. A psychologist would have pointed out that there was indeed a use for the system. People rarely leave voicemail. That’s because we have an inbuilt preference for the two types of language we use. We use vocal language when we can see or hear other human beings. If we can’t hear them or see them our inbuilt preference is for written language. SMS is perfect when you can’t see or hear the other person. Hence it has real value to us. The industry squandered billions of pounds of income by not considering this; instead they thought the phone was just a voice device. A new report shows how much we view the phone as a text device. Research by Portio suggests that the income from SMS text messaging is set to grow to $67bn. It shows what a huge sector this really is and suggests that the industry lost out on significant slices of income by hiding away text messaging for so long. With a simple bit of psychological insight they could have increased their profits considerably.

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