This morning Google announced the launch of a new service that delivers Gmail messages over SMS. The service, simply called Gmail SMS, is currently available only in emerging markets where smartphone penetration is low and internet connections are unreliable. Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya are the first three countries where Gmail SMS is supported. However, although Google didn’t say, it’s likely that the service will begin to roll out to other regions in the near future.
Details of how the service works were shared on Google’s Africa blog, which demonstrates how users can set up a new Gmail SMS account. Unfortunately, configuration does require the use of a computer for the initial setup – it can’t be set up directly from a phone itself, which would have dramatically increased its potential to go viral.
For setup details, read the post, but it’s a relatively simple process involving heading into your account settings and enabling SMS in the “Phone and SMS” section. I checked this morning in the U.S. (just to be sure, you never know!), and, sorry U.S. feature phone users, we don’t appear to have this ourselves. Oh well.
The new service is free of charge, but standard SMS text message rates will follow. Google’s move to SMS-enable its Gmail service in these emerging markets is notable because SMS tends to be a preferred method of communication – even over phone calls, in many cases. The value for these users is that it allows them to continue with their usual text messaging behaviors, but also keeps an online archive of those messages for easy access the next time they are at a PC or in an Internet cafe, for example. It also provides a channel for them to reach out to others outside the area where texting makes sense – in other words, the world at large.