History of the 160 Character Text Message

I’ve never given much thought to this, and maybe that’s a sign of how well it was designed and implemented: the history and (high-level) technical development of  text messaging.

Would the 160-character maximum be enough space to prove a useful form of communication? Having zero market research, [the research commitee] based their initial assumptions on two “convincing arguments”:

For one, they found that postcards often contained fewer than 150 characters.

Second, they analyzed a set of messages sent through Telex, a then-prevalent telegraphy network for business professionals. Despite not having a technical limitation, Hillebrand said, Telex transmissions were usually about the same length as postcards. […]

[Friedhelm Hillebrand, the ‘father of text messaging’,] had an argument with a friend about whether 160 characters provided enough space to communicate most thoughts. “My friend said this was impossible for the mass market,” Hillebrand said. “I was more optimistic.” 

Nowadays, with the ubiquity of text messging and services such as Twitter I feel that there is little doubt that 160 characters is enough to get across all but the most complex or important messages.



2 responses to “History of the 160 Character Text Message”

  1. Funnily enough, since SMS became mainstream, I have found it much easier to compose a message for a postcard!

  2. Paul

    The earliest mass-produced mobile email device was NTT Docomo’s i-mode phone launched in Japan in late 1998. It too had a 150 character limit. I remember my friends getting very frustrated with the length of my messages and my insistence that they keep their points brief in their replies.

    Over 10 years later, what goes around, comes around.