iMessage vs SMS/MMS messaging and text + data plans

Jesse Hollington
By Jesse Hollington - Senior Editor

Q: My wife and I have new iPhone 5’s on Verizon with unlimited SMS/MMS but are on a metered, shared data plan. So for us it’s most economical to turn iMessage off and just use SMS/MMS. However, our friends with iPhones mostly are on older, unlimited data/metered messaging plans, so it’s more considerate for us to use iMessage with them than SMS/MMS. The aggravation is remembering to change the setting depending on who we’re messaging. Plus it doesn’t help our friends if we’ve turned iMessage off for ourselves and they message us, because then we force them to pay for SMS, by accident.

Is there a contact-dependent switcher app out there or some other slicker solution? With the new crop of plans combining unlimited talk + text with metered data the current implementation of iMessage seems like a no-win situation.

– Carl

A: Unfortunately, there isn’t really any way to configure the iPhone to only use iMessage when sending to specific contacts, as this is a decision that iOS makes on its own based primarily on whether the phone number that you are sending to is registered with Apple’s iMessage network.

iMessage uses a minuscule amount of data compared to what a typical data plan offers, however, so you very likely don’t need to worry too much about using iMessage unless you have an extremely limited data plan or you regularly send photos and videos via the Messages app. Unlike SMS/MMS messaging, however, iMessage also works over Wi-Fi, so whenever you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network you’re not using any cellular data at all.

To put this into perspective, a typical single iMessage will usually use about 1-2 kilobytes, or about 1000-2000 bytes of data, depending on how much text you’re sending.

By comparison, the smallest shared data plan available on Verizon right now is 1 GB per month, which translates to roughly one billion bytes of information. This would allow you to send an impossible number of iMessages per month—between 500,000 and 1,000,000—before you would even get close to your data plan. Even if you’re still on one of the older 150MB or 200MB data plans, this still equates to well over 100,000 iMessages—that’s over two iMessages per minute, every minute of every day for an entire month. A more typical text messaging user may send about 1,000 texts per month, which would only eat up about 1-2MB of your data plan.

That said, your data usage may be of some concern if you send a lot of photos or videos through iMessage.

By Jesse Hollington Senior Editor
Jesse Hollington was a Senior Editor at iLounge. He's written about Apple technology for nearly a decade and had been covering the industry since the early days of iLounge. In his role at iLounge, he provided daily news coverage, wrote and edited features and reviews, and was responsible for the overall quality of the site's content.