An Obvious Problem

Over the past several years I’ve seen countless iOS apps that promise the exact same thing: free text messaging for your iPhone. The allure of this promise is simple and clear; everyone would love to send text messages without having to pay the exorbitant costs most mobile carriers inflict on their subscribers. When it comes to texting, the ludicrous cost per byte of data that carriers charge inspires the same hatred and rage usually reserved for companies selling refill cartridges for inkjet printers. Needless to say, there’s a strong market for apps that allow users to get around these outrageous fees.

However, in real-life usage, most of these apps fall short in some way or another. Users inevitably return to Apple’s SMS app because, when all is said and done, its simplicity, convenience and deep integration with iOS make it worth the additional cost of paying carriers for every text message sent and received.

Textie Icon

A Simple Solution

This is where Textie comes in. Textie isn’t perfect, but it’s a close enough replacement to the iPhone’s SMS app that I’m convinced it actually delivers on the elusive promise of free text messages—at least for most. Textie was designed by the now-famous Loren Brichter, creator of Tweetie for the iPhone and Mac, who is currently employed by Twitter and heads-up development of the official Twitter apps for iOS and the Mac. For those familiar with Brichter’s work, you’ll assume correctly that Textie is both beautifully designed and dead-simple to use. Here are a few ways the app sets itself apart from the pack and distinguishes itself as a legitimate solution in day-to-day use.

Textie's Contacts Screen

Design: Textie isn’t a carbon-copy of Apple’s app, but its close enough in aesthetic and interface that there’s virtually zero learning curve for users familiar with the default messaging app in iOS.

Setup: Getting started is simple. You don’t need a username or password to use Textie. You simply use your current mobile number or email address to send and receive texts.

Interoperability: Even better, recipients don’t need to have Textie installed or have an account either. You can send to any mobile number on most US carriers, and you can also text to a contact’s email address who is using Textie, allowing iPod touch and iPad users to get in on the action as well. When someone replies to a text you sent from Textie, their reply shows up right where it should—a threaded conversation within the app.

Textie's Threaded Conversations

Functionality: Of course, the app’s integration of push notifications works flawlessly, which is a must. But Textie also includes threaded messages, the ability to text photos (though only to other Textie users), and the ability to send texts to multiple recipients at once.

Price: It seems almost too good to be true, but Textie is a free download from the App Store. The free version does include non-intrusive Fusion ads, but if ads are a deal-breaker for you, a $1.99 in-app purchase will make them disappear forever.

A Few Caveats

As with every pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, there are always a few leprechauns waiting in the wings to steal your candy and call you names. Textie may be the best way to send free texts from an iOS device, but it isn’t without flaws. First off, Textie isn’t supported by Sprint or T-Mobile in the US, so if you often text friends or family who use those mobile providers, Textie may not be a good solution for you. Textie also doesn’t work yet with international phone numbers. You can send messages internationally using a contact’s email address, but this only works well if they’re already using Textie too. (Since I’m currently living in China, this feature actually comes in handy quite often for me.)

The Wrap Up

Wanting to send free text messages and actually doing it doesn’t always coincide in the current smartphone universe. With Textie, iPhone users finally have an app that makes that dream a few steps closer to reality. More importantly, it gives us all a reason to cheer as the future grows dim for carriers bent on charging ridiculous sums of money to transmit tiny snippets of text from one phone to another.

Header Photo Credit: shotam

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