The SMS Scam

The missus and I have iPhones and we love them. Our “family” plan has the minimum number of shared minutes possible which we never reach – our “rollover minutes”  pile grows every month. With our plan we get “unlimited” calls to each other and “unlimited” calls to anyone during night and on weekends. AT&T requires iPhone owners to carry an “unlimited data” plan as well – we can transfer many megabytes of data every month via web surfing and email for no additional cost. It’s fun to be able to watch YouTube videos on the train.

Apparently, though, AT&T doesn’t consider SMS (“text messages”) to be “data”. SMS messages are tiny little messages (up to 160 characters). SMS messages have the advantage that they (generally) appear quickly, often just seconds after being sent, but one pays 20 cents per message to send and 20 cents per message to receive them (or you can pay $5 for 200 messages (sent or received) per month, $15 for 1500 messages, or $20 for an “unlimited” number of messages per month). I can call the missus and have a 15 minute phone conversation on my way home for no extra charge (“unlimited mobile to mobile”) or I can send her an email for no extra charge (“unlimited data”). If I sent here even a short SMS (such as “518”, indicating I am my way home on the 5:18pm train) they will charge me 20 cents to send it and charge her 20 cents to receive it even though we are on the same “family plan”.

After we each went over our 200 messages last month, mostly because we sometimes were using SMS like IM (having back and forth conversations during which you can chew through 200 messages quickly, one per each message you send one for and each message you receive), I considered getting us larger SMS plans, but the next step is $15 each for 1500 messages which seemed like quite a jump. I did some searching and discovered an iPhone (and iPod Touch) app called TextFree. TextFree is free for 15 messages per day and $6 for “unlimited messages” (not $6 per month, $6 one time). I went ahead and paid the $6 (which lets us run TextFree on both phones).

TextFree is sort of an odd mix of IM and SMS. I can use it to send an SMS message without the AT&T charge to anyone, even people with non-iPhone phones, even non-AT&T people (probably USA only, though). If the “other person” is a TextFree user (even the free version) it will go directly to their TextFree application instead of being delivered as a normal SMS message. Right now, this means they either have to have TextFree running otherwise it will send a notification of the message to their email which will contain the message but will also prompt them to run TextFree to get the message. I am hoping this summer with the iPhone OS 3.0 TextFree will support “Push” so I will get “instant notification” of an incoming TextFree message much like what I get with SMS today.

I would say TextFree has (for a one time $6 fee) solved the majority of our SMS issues. The missus has elected to keep the 200 message SMS plan for now, as there are other people she exchanges SMS messages with, but without our long conversations she should come well under the 200 message allotment. We can still have those conversations, we just use TextFree for them (or heck, we could use our “unlimited moibile to mobile” and actually talk to each other).

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