[LIFE AND TECH]<br />
SMSâSo Last Year?

This year, SMS messaging—more simply known as text messaging— will be able to buy itself a drink to celebrate its 21st birthday. Since its start, sending a text has grown to become some folk’s primary form of communication and a hugely popular way to stay in touch in the U.S., to the tune of six billion messages sent every day in this country alone. But has our love affair with the text run its course? There are new ways to completely ignore your dinner companions that have some distinct advantages over the old standard.

Over-the-top (OTT) messaging is predicted to account for twice the volume of SMS messages by the end of this year. One of the primary reasons OTT apps like WhatsApp Messenger, Tango, and Kik Messenger are so popular is pretty straightforward – they’re free. It costs nothing to download these apps and others like them, but it also won’t cost you anything to actually send messages either. The data you send back and forth doesn’t require cell phone connectivity, as everything gets transmitted over the internet. What this means is you don’t even need to own a smartphone to be able to send messages to someone – an iPod, tablet, or other device that is Wi-Fi capable (and supports app downloads) could serve the same purpose. OTT messaging allows you to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world with an app and an internet connection – for free.

The other benefit to OTT messaging is that you can do so much more than with traditional SMS. Make video calls without needing FaceTime on an iPhone with Tango or Skype. Use Facebook Messenger to stay in touch with all of your Facebook friends without having to remember those pesky phone numbers. Take it back to the old school with Nextel-style walkie-talkie functionality using Voxer. And even with the highly questionable “self-destruct” feature of Snapchat, the OTT app is still seeing over 350 million messages sent per day. Most of these apps also provide some type of group messaging as well. And there seems to be a new app with new features popping up every week, features you just won’t get with SMS.

So is this officially the death of the SMS message? Not quite, considering half of all adults that own a cell phone do not have a smartphone. Without access to that type of advanced technology, non-smartphone owners will have to continue to rely on traditional text messaging. But for everyone else, OTT messaging is proving itself to be a fast, fun, and free way to stay connected. Are you using any of these or other OTT messaging apps? Let us know in the comments.

Follow tech-life expert Stephanie Humphrey on Twitter.