Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tech Column: Texting for Free

Photo by Jeff Sandquist.
  Used under Creative Commons license.
We're talking less and texting more. This isn't either a subtle trend or a temporary one: As a country we're simply gabbing less, according to Wired Magazine. The greatest proof of this is that cell phone companies are virtually giving away voice calls, with rollover minutes, free in-network calls, free friends calls, and other programs.

Texting, as we all know, is wildly popular. And wildly expensive, especially if you text internationally or if you do a lot of texting. Unlimited texting plans, a necessity if you have kids, don't cover international texts. You can only cram so much into a 160 character message. And, as every texter knows, because of that character limitation, it can often take multiple rounds of texting to coordinate whatever you're planning.

If I only had a quarter for every text that was sent, I'd be very rich. Or I'd be a cell phone company.

The average American sends 420 texts a month. If you live in the Philippines you're sending an average of 600 texts a month. (Don't ask me about what.) Last year 5 trillion texts were sent worldwide That's a lot of quarters.

Fortunately, there are some ways to text for free. Creative, and perhaps very frugal developers have created applications for smartphones that let you text your friends and family without contributing to the upkeep of the new yacht of your cell phone company's CEO.

Two of these applications, which work on a variety of smartphones, are PingChat2, www.pingchat.com and TextPlus+, http://www.textplus.com . There are others, as well, but I like and use these.

There is one important limitation to these free texting apps: Unless you're using free wifi, the text goes over your cell phone company's data network, and that can eat into your data plan. Texts use very little data, so chances are that your data usage with these apps will be too small to notice.

PingChat lets you text anyone, anywhere in the world, but only if that person is also using PingChat. TextPlus+ lets you text cell phones even if the person doesn't have TextPlus+, but TextPlus+ only works in the US and Canada. There are other free texting programs with varying features, too, that you can search for and enjoy.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com, and the author of over 20 books including "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," and "Outwitting Squirrels." Adler's technology column appears on Tuesdays. He tweets at @billadler.

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