The “father” of SMS (short message service) text messaging has died aged 63. Matti Makkonen came up with the idea in 1984, though it was eight years before the message was first sent.
Makkonen had downplayed his status in text messaging’s development, noting that while he came up with the idea — first discussing it over pizza at a telecommunications conference — it was other people who did the technical work to turn it into reality.
Speaking to the BBC to mark the 20th anniversary of the first message, Makkonen said he originally envisioned it as being for “quick business needs.” He also noted that it was Nokia’s 2010 phone, launched in 1994, which really made widespread SMS use viable.
The beauty of SMS is that it used spare capacity in GSM mobile voice call networks, helping keep the costs down. Making this work meant keeping single messages to 160 characters or less. That means the cheapness is only relative as, for people who pay per message, the cost per byte can be more expensive than any other form of digital communication.
The character limit still has an effect today as Twitter’s 140 character limit was originally designed so that a message and username could fit into a single SMS message and sent to a user’s phone if they preferred to receive it that way.
While texting is still popular worldwide, it appears to be on the decline as people switch to other forms of messaging, most notably those which send messages over an Internet connection.