Microsoft IM, SMS & Social on Mobile

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This week Microsoft announced on their blog that ‘Messenger will be seamlessly built into Windows Phone, bringing texting and Instant Messaging (IM) together’. This is a part of the Mango update, and will provide a ‘seamless, built-in texting and IM experience powered by Windows Live Messenger.’

In this case Microsoft means more than just Messenger, and will also allow the user to access Facebook chat through the same system. I imagine Skype will be added as well at some point. The phone will also select the service based on the activity:

For example, if we’re both online in Messenger, it will use Messenger IM so that we can share rich photos and more, but if we’re Facebook friends or just have each other’s phone numbers, it will automatically select the right service for our conversation.

Adding SMS and IM to the same conversation thread makes a lot of sense for Microsoft, especially considering how they are building their social networks, including their recent, widely publicised acquisition of Skype (I do not think they will restrict Skype to Windows, that would just be silly). Messenger is also able to connect with Yahoo! and Facebook, and in November last year, their Messenger app was the second most popular on Facebook, after Farmville.

The High Cost of Microsoft's Evil Skype Plan

Networks of Social Networks

When the Windows Live blog published their Preview of the new Windows Live Messenger in April 2010, they made a number of interesting points in line with some of their most recent published studies on user behaviour:

  • People use multiple devices
  • People use multiple platforms
  • Publishing the same message to all platforms is not good User Experience
  • People want to see more from some more than others in their own networks

Through building a network with partners and acquisitions, Microsoft is expanding Messenger’s reach beyond their install base. Both Facebook and Google seem to be trying to achieve the same with their social graph, and suite of content and social tools respectively.

In addition to access to a larger network of individuals, Messenger’s network of partners, and the integration of SMS through the Windows Phone 7 update, creates a unified communication experience. The user can follow a conversation they are having with another across multiple platforms in a single coherent thread. Other platforms appear to be implementing the same ideas, for example, Facebook Connect’s new Comment Box plugin is another example of effectively expanding the activity of a social network site beyond its own domain, creating a more unified social experience for its users.

With huge growth expected for mobile, providing better tools that offer a seamless experience across computers, tablets and phones is more important than ever. The growth for smartphones and numbers of users using multiple devices for 2010 show how big this can be:

Global Internet Use by Device Type for 2010

  • 2 billion Internet users in 2010
  • 400 million Internet users only use a personal computer
  • 975 million Internet users use both a personal computer and a mobile phone
  • 625 million Internet users only use a mobile phone
  • 1.38 billion new mobile phone handsets sold 2010 (almost all with a browser and a colour screen)
    • 22% of all new phones sold 2010 (298 million) were smartphones
    • 1.2 billion personal computers in use globally 2010

(Source: All the Numbers, All the Facts on Mobile the Trillion-Dollar Industry. Why is Google saying: Put your Best People on Mobile?, Communities Dominate Brands, Ahonen, T)

What Are They Doing, not What Are They Using

Integrating SMS and IM on mobile makes sense: both are predominantly text based (posting images, video and MMS aside), both tend to use short messages, and both use similar interfaces. Their differences are more a result of the associated technology than user behaviour. SMS, voice calls, IM and voice over IP (VoIP) were separate because they had to be. As devices become more powerful and able to perform a greater range of tasks and support more functions, the differences between them and other computers diminished.

The popularity of applications like Tweetdeck, and others that support conversations held across multiple platforms, indicate that there is a desire for this kind of integration. Ultimately, the user cares about what they want to achieve, such as following the news, catching up with friends or organising to meet for coffee. The platform doesn’t matter, only the interaction.

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