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Texting 101

6 common types of mobile messages explained

Fatima Puri
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Mobile messaging has revolutionized how people communicate with each other and businesses. But more than one mobile message type is available to users and companies.

We’ll cover the six text message types to help you better understand their definitions and differences. Plus, we share examples of each kind to visualize how each message type looks.

1. Short message service (SMS)

SMS is one of the most common forms of mobile messaging. SMS, a short message service, is a standard text message sent using a cellular signal. 

SMS is limited to 160 characters per message and is strictly text-based. It costs pennies per message for users in the U.S. without an unlimited messaging plan. 

It is a great two-way communication tool for businesses, friends, family, and more. 

Text messaging is the most common among U.S. teens. But overall roughly 81 percent of Americans text regularly. In addition, most Americans text twice as much as they call. Let’s take a look at an example text message conversation below.

An example of an SMS message.
An SMS message between friends.

2. Multimedia messaging service (MMS)

MMS, short for multimedia messaging service, is sent over a cellular signal like SMS, but it has key differences. In particular, MMS is a text message accompanied by a media file, like a photo, video, or link. 

MMS allows users to send messages with more than 160 characters and can be more engaging than a text-only message. But, MMS requires more data to send and receive than other types of text messages. It also costs a bit more to send than an SMS, at 4 cents in the U.S. for those without unlimited plans.

MMS is used by consumers around the world to converse with friends, family, colleagues and businesses. Plus, many companies have turned to MMS for marketing purposes. They will send MMS messages to customers to showcase their products or services visually. 

In the example below, you see Truly Beauty sending customers who opt-in to receive marketing text messages exclusive deals and announcements. The company does this with photos, classifying it as an MMS.

An example of an MMS marketing message.
An example of an MMS marketing message.

3. Instant messaging (via the internet)

Unlike SMS and MMS, instant messaging uses the internet to send and receive messages. Examples of instant messaging applications are WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, KakaoTalk, Kik, and Line. 

Instant messaging is not limited by character count, but it does require both users to have the same application. For example, if you’re using Facebook Messenger, you can’t send a message to someone on WhatsApp.

Since it uses the internet, regular cell phones that don’t have an internet connection don’t support instant messaging. However, these messages can be sent from a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

But, instant messaging allows users to send and receive more than just text messages — they also enable the sending and receiving of videos, photos, links, GIFs, and files. Some instant messaging applications also support phone calls, which operate via the internet.

Instant messaging applications are popular for users who want to communicate globally without paying hefty cellular bills. 

In the example below Sania Maskatiya, a Pakistani designer, uses WhatsApp to communicate with customers across the globe.

An example of a mobile conversation in WhatsApp.
An example of a mobile conversation in WhatsApp.

4. Push notifications

Push notifications are clickable pop-up messages from an application. Often, a user must enable them before apps can send them. Once enabled, companies can send essential announcements to users. It’s important to note that push notifications don’t appear in the app but are sent to the home or lock screen of a mobile phone.

Push notifications are a tool used by many companies to encourage users to engage with their application, especially if they haven’t used it in a while.

There are several types of push notifications, including banner notifications and badge notifications. Banner notifications are short messages that pop up and later disappear. Badge notifications are often a small red circle that pops up to let users know how many notifications or messages they have in the application. This is not a mobile message, but a type of push notification.

The image below shows you the different types of push notifications. Banner notifications that pop up on the lock or home screen, as well as badge notifications. 

A visual showing the different types of push notifications.
A visual showing the different types of push notifications.

5. In-app messages

In-app messages, as the name suggests, are messages users only receive when actively using a mobile application. These messages help keep users engaged, feel rewarded, or push them to convert.

For example, when users enter the app, companies can share a welcome message to alert them about new deals or things happening with the brand. Or, businesses can include side messages to entice customers to sign up for a reward program, upgrade their account, or bank on exclusive offers. 

Below is an example of DuoLingo sending in-app messages to welcome users back after they didn't pick up the app for awhile. The company also uses in-app messages to entices users to come back by rewarding them with in-app currency. 

An example of an in-app message.
An in-app message example.

6. Rich Communication Services (RCS)

RCS is a messaging as a platform technology developed by Google. It is considered an alternative to traditional text messaging. The idea is that with RCS technology, consumers can get an app-like messaging experience through their phone's native messaging system. Users of RCS messaging can send richer and more engaging messages, including seeing and receiving read receipts and higher-quality images.

Google created RCS to combat Apple directly. In a public digital campaign, the Google VP for integrated marketing for platforms, Adrienne Lofton, said, “We’re hoping that Android users stop being blamed for ruining chats. This is Apple that is responsible, and it’s time to own the responsibility.”

On the business side, brands are getting creative on how to use RCS to communicate with customers. In the example below, courtesy of Google, we see Subway sharing a coupon code with a customer. According to the article, Subway saw a 144 percent increase in redemption rate using RCS compared to the same promotion using SMS.

Subway ad using RCS
An RCS messaging example.

The bottom line: Every kind of messaging matters

Users will likely disagree over what type of mobile messaging is considered the best. But the reality is every kind of mobile messaging can be used to effectively communicate with friends, families, coworkers, strangers, or businesses. So whether you are team Apple or Android or prefer plain and straightforward texting, these messaging types help connect the world digitally.

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