The Continuing Global Dominance of SMS


A blog post from mobile guru Tomi Ahonen can be a fairly intimidating thing. Not only does the former Nokia exec confront you with a wall of text, but his from-the-hip style can sometimes be hard to follow.

You cannot deny, however, that Tomi’s posts are full of insights, and his latest missive on the enduring power of the humble text message is no exception. Here are just some of the things I learned from parsing through it.

First up is a debunking of what I previously took as truth, that WhatsApp had overtaken SMS as the world’s dominant mobile messaging platform. Here are Tomi’s numbers:

  • WhatsApp – 900 million active users;
  • Facebook on mobile – 1.2 billion mobile users;
  • Email on mobile – 2.2 billion active users;
  • Email on any tech – 2.5 billion active users;
  • Internet on any tech  – 3 billion active users;
  • SMS – 5.4 billion active users.

Or, put another way…

  • SMS reaches nearly twice as big an audience as the total Internet on mobile and PC;
  • SMS reaches twice the total user base of email on both PCs and mobile;
  • SMS reaches two and a half times the ownership of all smartphones, Androids, iPhones, Blackberries, etc. combined;
  • SMS reaches about 4 times the total audience of Facebook—less if you include also PC-only users, more if you only count mobile users;
  • SMS reaches six times the active user base of WhatsApp.

Right then, so much for WhatsApp!

But what about those punk-ass kids and their penchant for adopting new technologies that confuse and frighten their parents? According to Tomi, SMS still rules the roost for that demographic as well:

  • 46% of American teens used Snapchat on their phones in 2014;
  • 51% used Instagram;
  • 61% used Facebook;
  • 87% used SMS.

And here’s one final set of numbers, providing even more perspective on the global dominance of SMS:

  • 7.2 billion humans on Earth in 2014.
  • 0.8 billion are illiterate;
  • 1.0 billion are children 8 years old or younger;
  • 5.4 billion use SMS.

I wrote my own love letter to SMS back in 2007, and have archived every single message sent and received since then. I’m glad to hear that it’s sticking around!

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