Google Voice is a great way to supplement text message usage and cut down on the number of paid messages sent through your carrier, but it has its share of issues. After using Google Voice as my primary means of sending text messages for 2 months I had to switch back to standard text messages for a number of reasons.
Delayed and/or missed messages
On occasion I would get a text from a friend wondering why I never answered their previous text. My response would always be that I never received it in the first place. I would also receive messages saying “I’ll be there in 10 minutes” immediately followed by a phone call from them saying that they have been waiting for me for 15. In the age of instant communications, we depend on messages being delivered very quickly. GV just wasn’t good enough all of the time.
Lack of support for MMS (Pictures and Video)
This is one of my biggest gripes with GV. It’s not that I depended on this feature so often, but the way they handle incoming picture messages by making them vanish without a trace. Instead of getting a notification that I received an incompatible message, absolutely nothing would happen. The person sending the message would not be informed that it couldn’t be delivered, and the person receiving it wouldn’t know anything happened at all.
GV is not a real carrier
Many web based messaging services require you to choose a carrier in order to send an SMS, but since GV is not a real carrier, it is not supported my these systems. This includes things like text alerts for traffic and local news.
Buggy, Crash prone software
I tried multiple apps with support for GV messages and none of them were without flaws. Freezing up and/or crashing was a regular occurrence. The other issue was lack of true push support on many of the apps, requiring quirky workarounds like forwarding all of your messages to a special email address. This not only adds to the delays I referred to earlier, but also brings privacy concerns into the picture.
With the release of iOS 5, Apple brings us iMessage as another alternative to traditional text messages. The beauty of iMessage is that it’s built right into any device running iOS 5 and integrates seamlessly with the iPhone’s built in messages app. When my girlfriend updated to iOS 5 and sent me a text, it automatically detected that I was also running iOS 5 and sent me an iMessage instead of a text.
The chat bubbles, which are normally green, turn blue when you are talking to another iMessage user. And in the event that your iMessage cannot be delivered due to the recipient being in an area with poor data coverage, you have the option to resend the message as a standard text. iMessage also allows you to see when the other person is typing and (optionally) send read receipts so people know when you actually read their messages.
One last advantage of iMessage is its ability to work over WiFi. As I type this, I am in an area with very poor AT&T reception, but I’m connected to a WiFi network and have no issues sending and receiving messages.
This all sounds great, so what’s the catch? The biggest strength of iMessage can also be considered its biggest weakness. The fact that it’s built into iOS 5 and only iOS devices means that anyone without an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch is going to be left out of the party.
If all of your friends are using iPhones, you can basically eliminate texting without having to even think about it. But if your friends are using Android devices, Blackberry’s or any other phones, you are out of luck. Your options are to convince them to all get iPhones or to use something like Google Talk, Facebook Chat, or any one of the many IM clients out there. Of course this isn’t going to be easy and there will inevitably be someone who insists on sending you texts, no matter how hard you try to stop them. And, yes, there are still people out there that are not using smart phones and do, not have the ability to use any of these alternative methods. This is where Google Voice can be used as a supplement. If I was not relying on it as my primary messaging method, most of the problems above wouldn’t really be that much of an annoyance.
This is why cellular carriers are structuring their text messaging plans the way they are. With AT&T, it’s all or nothing. Unlimited or pay as you go, which makes it less of an incentive to simply cut back on the number of messages you use unless you can get it down to nearly zero. AT&T has added incentives to their texting plans, such as unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes so you feel like you are getting more for your money, because they know that people are cutting back. Until they stop making loads of money from texts, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for this to change any time soon. But if more and more people make the switch I think with time they will be forced to make changes to the pricing structure. So I encourage everyone to use as few text messages as possible. The less dependent we are on the carriers, the less power they have to maintain their extraordinary prices for text messaging.