3 IM Apps to Make You Forget All About SMS Texts

A lot has changed since the first SMS text message was sent 20 years ago. Modern mobile apps let you send and receive messages without paying wireless service providers a cent. Check out these three IM apps that will make you forget all about SMS.

Today, as you start tapping out yet another text message, take a second to sing “happy birthday.” You might throw in a “hallelujah” as well.

On this date 20 years ago, U.K.-based programmer Neil Papworth sent what’s considered to be the first SMS. The message was transmitted over the Vodafone GMS network to Papworth’s buddy Richard Jarvis. It read simply: “Merry Christmas.”

WhatsApp Messenger iPhone screen shot

(Screen shot by WhatsApp Inc.)

Since then we’ve come a long way, baby. With e-mail inboxes overflowing and voicemails too long to listen to, text has become the preferred way to get someone’s attention. Cellular service providers, ever seeking new forms of communications "crack" to hook customers, offered the only way to send text messages via cell phone for years. But now, there’s no shortage of apps and other alternatives that eliminate or reduce SMS costs by blasting messages over Wi-Fi or smartphone data plans. That’s where the “hallelujah” comes in.

In addition to Apple’s iMessage, BlackBerry Messenger, and other services, the following mobile apps can have you texting locally and internationally without worrying about costs.

* WhatsApp Messenger. Rumors are circulating as you read this about Facebook's potential purchase of WhatsApp, which would help extend its presence on mobile devices. It’s not hard to see why Facebook is interested. WhatsApp Messenger is an app for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Nokia and Symbian phones that lets users send and receive messages from other WhatsApp Messenger users at no cost and without ads. The app has tens of millions of daily active users in over 100 countries, according to TechCrunch, and it routinely gets positive user reviews. As with most other mobile or social messaging apps, however, your buddies need the same app to receive your messages. Fortunately, WhatsApp Messenger is inexpensive: $1 for iPhone users and free for the first year for all other devices. After that, it’s $1/year.

* Kik Messenger is another hugely popular SMS app that receives mostly positive user reviews. It’s available for free and without ads for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and Nokia phones and has more than 30 million users, according to Kik. In a recent update, the app added “cards” that let users, among other things, find, watch, and send YouTube videos and draw pictures with friends.

* Voxer is cool because it effectively turns your iPhone or Android smartphone into a walkie-talkie for blasting quick voice messages to other Voxer users and Facebook friends. Messages are delivered "live," as they’re recorded—just press the "Hold and Talk" button as you speak. You can also send text messages and images. Voxer is free and doesn’t contain ads. For more on Voxer, see my February 2012 review.

What’s your favorite way to send and receive text messages?

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