What is the difference between a text and a text message?

Quick Answer

The main differences between a text and a text message are:

  • A text is typically longer, while a text message is usually limited to 160 characters.
  • Texts are sent through email, apps, or websites. Text messages use a cell phone’s SMS (Short Message Service).
  • Texts do not have the same character restrictions as text messages.
  • Texts can include formatting like bold, italics, images etc. Text messages are limited to plain text.
  • Texts are asynchronous communication. Text messages are more real-time.

What is a Text?

A text refers to any electronic message sent from one device to another through email, messaging apps, or websites. Unlike a traditional text message sent through a cellular network, texts have no restrictions on length and can include formatting, images, videos, and other multimedia.

Some examples of texts include:

  • Emails sent from one person to another or a group
  • Messages sent through web-based apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Slack etc.
  • Direct messages sent through social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat
  • Messages sent through consumer messaging apps like iMessage, Android Messages, RCS etc.

The key thing distinguishing a text from a text message is that it does not use the SMS (Short Message Service) system built into cellular networks. Texts rely on internet data connections rather than cellular voice channels. This allows texts to avoid the limitations of traditional text messages.

Characteristics of Texts

Texts have the following characteristics:

  • No limits on length – Emails and messaging apps place no hard restrictions on how long a text can be.
  • Multimedia inclusion – Texts can embed images, GIFs, videos, documents, voice messages and other multimedia.
  • Formatting options – Texts can use features like bold, italics, lists, hyperlinks etc. to format the message.
  • Asynchronous communication – Senders and recipients do not have to be simultaneously connected. Texts can be accessed whenever it’s convenient.
  • Conversational threads – Multiple replies can be threaded together to have an ongoing conversation via text.

The flexible nature of texts allows richer communication and conversation compared to standard text messages. The only limit is what capabilities the app or software you’re using provides.

What is a Text Message?

A text message, commonly referred to as a text, is a short electronic message sent and received through the SMS (Short Message Service) system on cellular networks. Text messages can be sent between mobile phones and other handheld devices like tablets.

Here are some key aspects of text messages:

  • Limited to 160 characters – Text messages have traditionally been restricted to 160 Latin characters or 70 for non-Latin alphabets like Chinese and Arabic.
  • Delivered through cellular networks – SMS messaging relies on standard voice cellular networks rather than internet data connections.
  • Plain text only – No options for formatting, fonts, or multimedia are available in a basic text message.
  • Near real-time delivery – Text message delivery is close to instantaneous, like an SMS conversation.
  • Support for group messaging – Multiple recipients can be included in a single text message.

Text messages have been around since the early days of cell phones in the 1980s. They became hugely popular in the 1990s and 2000s before messaging apps began taking over.

Text Message Composition

When composing a text message on a mobile device, the message is sent from the sending device to a Short Message Service Center (SMSC) operated by the cellular provider. The SMSC then delivers the text message to the appropriate recipient device via the cellular network.

Once received, the text message is stored in the recipient’s SMS inbox. On most phones this is a dedicated app like Messages on an iPhone.

Text messages are simple and lightweight, making them reliable and quick to deliver. However, this comes at the cost of flexibility – they do not support the wide range of features found in modern messaging apps and texts.

Key Differences Between Texts and Text Messages

While texts and text messages may seem similar as short electronic communication methods, there are several notable differences:

Text Text Message
Sent over internet data connections Sent over cellular networks
No limits on length Limited to 160 characters
Can include multimedia Plain text only
Asynchronous communication Near real-time delivery
More feature-rich formatting No formatting options

Here we elaborate on the key differences:

Data Connection

Texts rely on internet data connections while text messages rely on the cellular network. Smartphones can access the internet through both WiFi and mobile data from cell towers. This gives texts more flexibility, allowing them to be sent from any device with an internet connection. Text messages require a cellular signal.

Length Limits

The SMS protocols that define text messaging place hard limits on message length. This restricts messages to 160 Latin characters or 70 for some non-Latin languages. Texts have no predefined limits on length, though apps and services may set their own restrictions. Texts are only limited by available storage space.

Multimedia Capabilities

Text messages are restricted to plain text. They cannot natively include attachments like images, videos, documents, voice messages, contact cards, or other files. Texting apps and protocols like MMS can add some of this multimedia functionality. Texts sent through email, messaging apps, and social media have built-in support for multimedia.

Communication Style

Text messages are designed for near real-time communication. Since they use the cellular voice network, they are sent and received immediately like a voice call. Texts may have a slight delay depending on data connections, though apps try to mimic real-time messaging. Overall, texts are more asynchronous like email, while text messages facilitate instant back-and-forth communication.

Formatting Options

Text messages are plain text, so they do not allow any rich formatting. The simple SMS protocols were designed long before smartphones came along. Texting apps and RCS messaging add some better formatting like bold, italics, or color text. Texts sent through emails, messaging apps, and websites support much richer formatting like fonts, lists, hyperlinks, and more.

Text Messages vs. Texting Apps

Modern messaging apps like WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Telegram etc. provide a texting experience that blurs the line between text messages and texts. Let’s compare them:

Text Messages

  • Use the standard cellular SMS system
  • Limited to 160 plain text characters
  • Sent and received nearly instantly
  • Support group messaging
  • Require cellular signal to work

Texting Apps

  • Run over internet data connections
  • No character limits
  • Delivered asynchronously
  • Offer multimedia sharing
  • Provide more formatting options
  • Offer features like encryption

While texting apps provide a superior experience, standard text messaging remains useful as a universally supported basic communication method. But texting apps now dominate day-to-day messaging in most countries.

Advantages of Texts Over Text Messages

Let’s explore some of the advantages that texting through apps and internet messaging provides over standard text messages:

No Limits on Length

The 160 character limit on text messages is extremely restrictive. Texting apps remove this limit, allowing long-form communication. You can send enormous messages, share long articles or passages, or write conversationally without worrying about length.

Multimedia Sharing

Texting apps allow you to share photos, videos, GIFs, voice messages, contacts, documents, and more inline with the text. Text messages simply cannot handle rich multimedia.

More Formatting Options

Texting apps and websites allow for text styling like bold, italic, strikethrough, color changes, fonts, lists, and more. This helps communication and makes conversations more interesting.

Cross-Platform Functionality

You’re no longer limited to sending texts from phone to phone. You can text from your phone to a friend’s tablet, from your laptop to your mom’s phone, etc. Texts work across all devices.

End-to-End Encryption

Many texting apps like WhatsApp and Telegram offer end-to-end encryption for your messages. This provides enhanced privacy and security. Unencrypted text messages have minimal security protections.

WiFi Support

Texting apps will work even without a cellular signal, as long as you’re connected to WiFi. Standard SMS text messaging requires cellular network coverage to function.

Better Group Messaging

While SMS supports group messaging, texting apps provide more features like better participant management, customizable notifications, collaborative features, shared media albums, and more.

Smarter Chatbots and Businesses

Texts allow businesses to communicate with customers in richer ways through chatbots, appointment reminders, notifications, and more. SMS text messaging options are limited.

Disadvantages of Text Messages

Given the limitations of traditional text messaging, what are some of the disadvantages?

  • Restrictive 160 character limit
  • No support for fonts, emojis, GIFs and other formats
  • No option to include multimedia like images, audio, documents, location etc.
  • Lack of encryption leads to security and privacy risks
  • No continuity across devices makes syncing conversations difficult
  • Group messaging management is limited
  • Requires cellular service to work – no WiFi support
  • Poor support for chatbots and business communication

Text messaging was revolutionary in the early days of cell phones. But with today’s advanced smartphones and cheap data plans, SMS messaging is dated and restrictive compared to texting apps.

The Bottom Line

  • Texts refer to any digital messages sent over internet data, with no length restrictions.
  • Text messages are specifically SMS messages sent over cellular networks, limited to 160 plain text characters.
  • Key differences include multimedia capabilities, formatting, transport protocols, and more.
  • Texting apps provide a text messaging experience enhanced with features of texts.
  • Texts are more feature-rich and flexible than standard text messages.

While traditional text messaging remains useful as a universal mobile communication system, expanding beyond 160 character plain text limits unlocks far richer communication through modern texting apps, social media, email, and messaging services. Texts are the natural evolution of texting in the smartphone era.

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