I remember an instructive conversation with a guy who developed services for the mobile phone. I was suggesting some fancy service or other that involved a small app sitting on the phone. He said it wouldn’t fly with users. “No downloads, no registration, keep it simple,” he said. “Or it won’t stick.”
Maybe that’s why SMS is so powerful and why, still, it’s the method of choice for services on the cellphone. Emily over at textually.org has found some more, illustrating how SMS is not just about simplicity, but flexibility.
- A device that allows you to start your car engine by SMS. The Webasto Thermo Top E Parking Heater allows users to send a text message to a car where it is installed, which then kicks it into action, ensuring your car is warm to the touch when you get in.
- If you can’t actually find your car, check out a service running at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, where users can find their car by SMS. (It doesn’t explain how, exactly, this works, but it makes a lot of sense. Apparently about 50 shoppers each day forget where they parked at the mall.)
Tackling a more urgent problem there is SMS toiletting, where text messages help you relieve yourself. In London, Shanghai, and, via MizPee, anywhere in the U.S., those caught short can SMS for the address of the nearest loo. To guarantee you have a pleasant experience, some toilets in Finland are locked. Of course, then you can open the door of a locked loo by SMS.
Then there’s what I’d call, for want of a better term, conditional SMS: You’ll only get your SMS depending on certain factors:
- An SMS service that delivers text messages based on the recipient’s location. JotYou lets you specify a location so your friends get your message only when they arrive at school or the mall. Yeah, I can’t quite figure out the use for this yet either, but I’m sure there are some.
- Or a service, yet to be launched, that will ensure the sender knows when his message has been read. More on this anon.
When you marry the SMS with other tools, you can dream up some great services. Like this one from the UK:
- A system that combines a motion detector and SMS is being used to deter and catch bicycle thieves in Portsmouth, England (picture above). When the bicycle owner locks up their bicycle they send a text to a security office to trigger the system to guard it. Then if someone then moves, or tries to move the bicycle, a sensor in the lock emits a silent alarm which triggers a CCTV camera to zoom in and take a picture. Result: bike theft down by 90%.
Bottom line. SMS still has a lot of leg left to it. Why? Because it’s simple. Because every phone can do it. Because it’s cheap. Because it’s tied to the most versatile device we’ve yet come up with: The mobile phone.