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Affle, a Britain-based technology company, on Tuesday unveiled an enhanced version of the wildly popular short message system (SMS) that allows users to view more content and do searches on their mobile phones.
Affle said the SMS 2.0 maintains the simplicity and ease of text messaging, but adds more choices for the mobile phone user such as viewing the latest gossip from Bollywood to searching the location of a restaurant in Singapore's trendy Clarke Quay district.
The service was launched on Tuesday in Singapore and India after pilot trials.
Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Japan and Australia are expected to be added to coverage within the next two years, Affle executives said.
Many of the SMS 2.0 contents will be free, financed by advertisements, which executives said would be "unobtrusive" when shown on the screen.
The cost of sending a text message is unchanged, Affle said.
'First of its kind'
Chief executive Anuj Khanna said he believed SMS 2.0 is the first of its kind in the world to build on the highly popular text messaging, which remains the undisputed money-spinner for several telecom firms despite the emergence of fancier applications.
"I think this is one of the most significant innovations in the mobile industry," Khanna told reporters at the launch. "I am convinced that this is revolutionary."
When a subscriber turns on the mobile phone, SMS 2.0 is launched by default but the handset can still be used in the same manner when sending or receiving text messages.
At the bottom of the mobile phone's screen is an array of content banners — from news to astrology, travel and video — that the user can choose from if he or she wants to do more than just sending or receiving an SMS.
"It does not take anything away from the existing SMS," Khanna said.
He added that in the next two months, a "search" feature will be added to make SMS an acronym for "short message and search".
Under this feature, a user can key in a word or phrase just like composing an SMS message, click "search" instead of "send", and will be directed to a search engine like Google or Yahoo.
Khanna said Affle was in talks with various online search engines to power this feature.
Affle has initially partnered with phone-maker Nokia for the handsets. Media company GroupM, part of London-based communications services giant WPP Group, is to help with the expansion plans.
Affle said it has teamed up with leading Indian mobile telecom firm Airtel Bharti, with Times Internet Ltd, part of media conglomerate Times Group, providing the content in India.
Mobile phone firm M1 is its partner in Singapore.
Some experts and industry players who attended the CommunicAsia telecom fair in Singapore this month said text messaging will remain a key revenue earner for mobile phone companies in developing countries because it is cheap and simple.