Text messaging in mainstream

The Baltimore Sun

ARLINGTON, Texas -- To get into his first Texas Rangers game, Brian Gorham didn't need a ticket. He flashed his cell phone.

His baseball ticket had been sent via text message a few days earlier to his Motorola KRZR.

"I thought it was really cool," said Gorham, a native of Greenville, N.C., who was visiting Dallas for job training. "What it says is that text messaging has become mainstream. It's not some kid technology just for chatting."

Indeed, the text-messaging craze has successfully graduated from just another technology toy to a crucial communication tool firmly woven into our lives.

Consumers in Europe are way ahead of Americans in using text messaging, mainly because there's much better access to public transportation. But the U.S. market for text messaging seems to have fully blossomed, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at JupiterResearch in New York.

It may come as no surprise that the younger the cell phone user, the more popular text messaging becomes. In fact, 73 percent of teenagers who use cell phones are texting.

But older consumers are starting to embrace the text message.

And that's affecting how sales reps at Verizon Wireless and other cell phone stores pitch their products.

Lea Hilton, a data-solutions manager for Verizon, noticed the trend recently at a store in South Texas, where "winter Texans" descend from the North to temporarily escape the cold during their retirement years.

"The sales reps were at first hesitant to even talk about data features because these guys were just wanting traditional voice phones," Hilton said. "Some of the reps realized, 'I may not want to fight the battle of teaching them how to send a message, but I do want to show them how to receive a message.' They were teaching the customer how to open up picture messages sent from family members back home in Ohio."

There are plenty of other ways adults are getting in on the action.

American Airlines is testing the idea of letting customers text-message complaints to the airline.

Travelocity and other travel sites alert travelers to flight changes with a text message.

Gorham gets his list of appointments for the day sent automatically by text message to his phone at 6 a.m. every day.

AT&T; sponsored the cell phone voting for American Idol, which resulted in 64.5 million text messages sent last year.

When the pop singer Fergie performed a private concert at the Verizon Wireless store in Southlake, Texas, the company sent tickets to its customers' cell phones. Like Gorham at the ballpark, the Verizon customers had to show their phone to get in.

Verizon is hoping to make it easier for more consumers to text in bulk. It launched a site called vtext.com that lets Verizon customers send multiple text messages to other Verizon customers at once.

For example, a company could easily get a message out to all of its electricians in the field much easier than paging everyone and certainly much faster than e-mailing them because the workers likely wouldn't have BlackBerry phones.

New unlimited-texting plans from Verizon and other carriers have eliminated a major hurdle to text messaging, Gartenberg said.

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