I caved: we are abandoning Google Voice and signing up for a (gulp) paid text messaging plan from AT&T

As much as it pains me, we are about to start shelling out $20 a month for a text messaging plan for our phones.

My wife and I are in our mid 30’s, and we were just on the wrong side of the age barrier to be natural “texters”.  We got our first cell phones in our 20’s, and all we ever used them for were actual phone calls.  While we understood that you could send text messages, what was the point?  You could just call, and you didn’t have to pay extra.

Things changed quite a bit when we got our iPhones.  While we never aspired to having email on our phones (Aviva swore that she wouldn’t use the email feature, but that lasted about two weeks), we soon became attracted to the ability to communicate electronically on the go without the disruption of a phone call.  Phone calls were great when we needed to convey a lot of information or discuss options, but for less immediate or pressing concerns (like extra items to pick up at the grocery store), email was more convenient and less disruptive.

As we became accustomed to this new form of communication, we soon found ourselves wanting something more immediate than email but without the disruption of a phone call.  For example:
  1. Responding to (or asking) a quick question when we are in a meeting
  2. Strategizing how to handle a child that won’t go asleep when one parent is in the child’s room
  3. Letting one another know that we are on the way home so that the parent who is juggling the kids can plan accordingly
Sure, the emails would get through, but the phones only checked email every 30 minutes (in order to save battery life), and most of the emails are from other people on unimportant topics.  When Aviva sends me an electronic message, I want to know right away.  Text messaging was the perfect in between – the immediacy of a phone call but lack of disruption of email.

Of course, the very idea of paying for text messages upsets me.  I know that SMS messaging costs the phone company a tiny fraction of what a voice call costs, and they give me free mobile calling to any phone in the network.  Why on earth should I be paying for text messages?  It’s absurd.

Since we were both on iPhones, about a year ago we started using PingChat!, a free iphone-to-iphone messaging client using push notifications.  It was perfect, and we began to use it actively.  Pretty soon, it was hard to live without it.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be a double-edged sword.  It was frustrating to only be able to message with other people who were using PingChat, and the program was buggy.  It would often crash, or behave sluggishly, taking a long time to send a text message.

After seven or eight month using PingChat!, I decided to make the leap to Google Voice and its free text messaging service.  This would allow me to send a text message to anyone with a mobile phone, effectively letting me out of my walled garden.  And since it was Google, I could depend on a much better software experience, especially since Apple had finally allowed the native iPhone app for Google Voice into the App store… right?

Once again, it was a double-edged sword.  Now that I could text message anyone, I actually started to really use text messages.  They were perfect if I urgently needed to reach my boss or a coworker when they were in a meeting, and since I could send messages on the Google Voice website instead of having to thumb-key in messages, my usage ramped even higher.  It was really a service I couldn’t live without.

Unfortunately, this was my undoing.  Text messaging has now become a service neither I nor my wife can live without.  But as it turns out, Google cannot actually be relied on to build a good native app for the iPhone.  Their Google Voice application is a nightmare.  Every time you open it, there is a long hang while it starts talking to the server, and you can’t do anything with it.  When I want to send a text message, I want to do it now, dammit!  Not 15 seconds from now.  Now!

Even worse, I would occasionally have issues with push messages not working.  This had been intermittent, but it has become much more frequent.  Aviva would periodically say to me, “Didn’t you get my text?”  I would look at my phone and see no notifications, but if I opened the application, it would pop up.  Or I would get an accusing look about why I didn’t let her know I was going to be home late, only to discover she hadn’t received my text.

We’ve tried using another Google Voice client (GV Connect), and while this is more responsive to sending the texts, it seems to be triggering problems with push notifications back to the regular Google Voice application, making missed texts much more of a problem

All I want is text messaging that works.  Just works.  Is that so much to ask?

Well, there is one text messaging app that has been polished for years, and that’s the actual text messaging application built into the iPhone.  The one where you have to actually (good grief!) pay for messages with.

So, despite all my hard work to cut my phone bill and cable bill, I’m now going in the opposite direction and increasing my bill by $20 a month.  I added a 1000-messages-for-$10 plan to each of our phones.  In other words, I am paying $240 a year now for the privilege of sending 140 character messages directly to people’s phones.

I can’t believe I’m doing this.  Damned slippery slope.

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