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Apple's iMessage, as well as other data-based messaging apps, reportedly caused the first drop in U.S. text messaging in years, and the downward trend may continue as more wireless subscribers switch to smartphones.
Mobile analyst Chetan Sharma on Monday published a report saying that texting was down in the third quarter of 2012, with users sending 678 texts per month, down from 696 texts per month for previous quarter.
As noted by The New York Times, the decline is small but noteworthy as the amount of SMS text messages has seen continuous growth up to this point. The change puts the U.S. in line with most western markets, which have experienced texting revenue declines as more subscribers have switched to data-based messaging.
Unlike texts, which usually come bundled with cellular service subscriptions, apps like Apple's iMessage and Facebook's Messenger use data, which can amount to considerably less cost due depending on the data plan. For example, smartphone users who have unlimited data can basically do away with texting completely as long as the people they are messaging have compatible data-based apps.
While Sharma said it's too early to estimate whether the texting market will continue the decline for U.S. carriers, he noted that data-based messaging has slowly been replacing conventional messaging as the number of smartphone users rises.
The possible move away from texts doesn't necessarily mean a decline in earnings for U.S. telecoms, however, as Sharma noted that of the top three carriers, some 45 percent of revenue per customer is made from mobile data accounts. For example, AT&T in July announced its shared data plans that lock in subscribers to tiered data allotments ranging from 1GB for $40 per month, to 20GB for $200 a month, not including the per-smartphone fee which itself costs $30 to $45.