Remember flying in the 80s? Long haul flights seemed to take days. There was only one movie and three screens in the entire cabin, so if you were wheezing a bit too much at Shanghai Surprise for the fifth time, everyone knew about it. To hear the audio you had to shell out $4 for those stethoscopic ‘headsets’ that were barely-glorified tin-cans-on-strings (no really, kids – they were nothing more than hollow tubes that plugged into two tiny speakers in the armrest). You could smoke.
The funny thing was, nobody complained. It was as if flying through the air incredibly and winding up thousands of miles away in a few hours was enough for people. They didn’t need anything else.
Like aviation in the 80s, SMS in the 90s was a primitive affair by today’s standards – if by ‘primitive’ you mean ‘the sudden ability to instantly transmit the written word to people around the world.’
For much of the 90s and 00s, text messaging was impressive enough to flourish without extra bells and whistles. Rapid advances in technology allied with free market forces soon put paid to that. These days, the new normal is modified, souped up, pimped out text messages adorned with fancy new skins and non-QWERTY keyboards capable of sending anything from emojis to rap lyrics.
It should be noted at this point that SMS is SMS; the protocol hasn’t changed a jot in twenty years, only the window dressing. In many cases, ‘SMS modification’ really means ‘SMS replacement’ in the form of messaging apps. The appeal of these apps lies largely in their ability to provide users with a bespoke messaging experience.
Among the most popular of these is Chomp SMS, an easy-to-use, customizable app that lets users create their own themes and download custom font packs as they tire of their current look.
GoSMS Pro is a similar idea but with a much bigger palette from which to work. It allows users to completely overhaul their visuals with new icons, fonts, animations, backgrounds and text bubbles. It also comes with a raft of non-visual features, including a private storage space for storing locked conversations and a text message backup service.
Not all messaging apps are designed for purely aesthetic reasons. Some, like TextSecure, prevent screenshots of messages being taken and uses end-to-end encryption, thwarting prying eyes (whether criminal or federal!).
The trouble with these apps is that both parties have to be using them in order to reap the full benefits. Unlike standard SMS messaging, which everyone in the world with a phone has access to, the playing field is not level. For instance, Strings - the app that lets you recall text messages you regret sending - is of no use unless both parties are running the app; two people agreeing to send messages with the app is a tacit acknowledgement that there is a lack of trust in the relationship. This will be the major stumbling block for Strings (and others) as they try to grow.
Our favorite SMS messaging apps are those with objectives no loftier than bringing a smile to the face. There are a plethora of text messaging apps designed to add some levity to your conversations with friends and family. Here are some of the very best:
Crumbles. Sends messages in the form of cut-ups from famous movies, one word at a time. You type the message, hit send and the recipient sees an array of great characters - from Doc Brown to Darth Vader - deliver each word. Hard to describe, but loads of fun once you try it.
PopKey. Leverages the power of Apple’s GIF-supporting Messages app to send any number of GIFS from a huge library of possibilities. Also enormous fun!
RapKey. Far and away our favorite messaging app right now, RapKey sends hip hop lyrics instead of boring prose. With a cool, 8-bit influenced retro interface, it works by giving you a series of categories to choose from - talking to your spouse, griping about money etc - and a list of couplets to scroll through. Find the most appropriate rhymes for your situation and make text messaging more fun!