iPhone’s Newest Feature: Free Unlimited Text Messaging

Photo (cc) by Yutaka Tsutano

Too many of us feel it’s not worth the time or energy to upgrade the software on our gadgets every time an update is released. But if you’re one of those people, and you own an iPhone, here’s a great reason to upgrade to iOS 5 this fall: free unlimited text messaging.

Apple has revamped it’s messaging app – where you go to send text messages – calling it iMessage and building in a few new features that might seem familiar to BlackBerry users. You’ll be able to…

  • see when the person you’re conversing with is typing
  • verify messages you send have been received and read
  • host group chats
  • send text, photos, videos, locations, and contacts – with all of it encrypted for your privacy

The cost of these great new features? $0. To upgrade your existing iPhone costs you absolutely nothing. To send messages, pictures, or videos – as many as you want – to other iPhone users is completely free. You’ll end up being charged for the data you use, but text messaging uses so little data, you’ll wonder why carriers aren’t under investigation for gouging.

Any text message you send using a traditional system is limited to 1,120 bits in size, or a little more than 1 kilobit. But a bit is different than a byte (which is what you typically measure data size in if you’re looking at your hard drive). There are 8 bits in every byte, meaning to send one text message with the maximum number of letters uses just .14 kilobytes.

If you have the 200-megabyte, $15-a-month data plan from AT&T and could somehow use it to send a text message, you could send 1.4 million texts before even coming close to your limit. Yet, without a messaging plan, AT&T charges 20 cents for each text message you send (3o cents for pictures and video), despite there being very little difference between a text message and any other data sent from your phone. So $15 a month only sends 75 text messages, instead of the 1.4 million it should buy.

Apple took a look at all this math and realized it would be in your best interest (but certainly not your cell phone provider’s) to move the messages you send away from the traditional, grossly overcharged 20-cents-each text messaging rates and into your far more generous data plan. With that trick, Apple can easily afford to make all of your text messaging free – and recoup the comparatively modest costs of running their servers by selling more iPhones because of this perk.

But there’s a catch: You and the person you’re texting both must have iPhones with iOS 5. Otherwise, you’ll send a normal SMS message. So if you’ve got an iPhone, do your wallet and your friends a favor and upgrade it to iOS 5 the day it comes out, sometime this fall.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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