SMS browser company Shorthand has powered the Insta SMS Browser for Indiatimes*; the Insta SMS Browser essentially offers Indiatimes 58888 SMS services through a graphical menu, addressing one important concern when it comes to SMS based services – the need to remember ‘SMS keywords’ , typing them out and sending them as messages through the phone’s messaging section. The app automates the process, and users can just browse services and request for information updates, subscriptions and contests by clicking on them, while SMS transactions take place in the background.

This is somewhat similar to SIM based services, that operators integrate in their SIM cards through SIM toolkits, however, Insta SMS comes in the form of a Java based mobile application with a graphical user interface. The app features a separate Inbox to store received messages and a Message Counter to check usage, in addition to a security password that can be set to restrict usage. What’s interesting is that these SMSs do not come to the phone’s native Messaging Inbox.

It also lets users add and remove services from the menu. At the moment, the application offers all Indiatimes services including cricket, deals, city info, bollywood, dating and others. In addition to these, the app also allows users to add Facebook, Orkut, Twitter,Ask Laila, Naukri, and Wikipedia SMS services. However, adding them requires a GPRS/3G mobile internet connection. The app can be downloaded by visiting http://mobile.indiatimes.com/instasms on a PC and entering one’s mobile number to request for a WAP link or by sending an SMS with the text BROWSER to 58888 (SMS cost Rs.3). Why not offer a direct download via the WAP page?

Is it too late?

Indiatimes says that a majority of mobile users in India own feature phones and predominantly use voice and SMS, since mobile data usage is low. It is currently in talks with handset makers to embed the app in their phones. While this application does make SMS services more organized, the nature of the market is now changing – Edge data plans are now being offered at economical prices (Rs.95-100 for 2GB), and there are feature phone browsers like Bolt; Why should a user then opt for an SMS based, high priced service? Also, the fact that the app can not be downloaded or updated without a mobile data connection, proves that mobile internet is the preferred channel for delivering services and content, specially in urban markets. Nokia also offers Life Tools, a pre-embedded application that addresses rural markets on its low cost feature phones in India, which works more or less in the same way.

A suggestion: Indiatimes should tie-up with operators to offer a monthly, unlimited 58888 usage card to boost usage.

Disclosure: Indiatimes is an advertiser with MediaNama