Gmail users can now send text messages to mobile numbers across the country using Gmail chat. To access the feature, users will have to enable it by clicking on the gear icon in the upper right corner of their Gmail page and select the 'Settings' option. Once in 'Settings', select the 'Labs' tab and enable the 'SMS (text messaging) in Chat' option.
Sending and receiving SMS
To use this feature, enter the contact's name in the 'search or invite friends' box in Chat and select 'send SMS' from the options that appear to the right of your contact's name. In the dialog box, enter a phone number in the 'send SMS messages to this number' field. Once the number is saved, a chat window will appear and you can type and send messages just like you do in a regular chat.
An SMS will be sent to the number that will read like this â€“ 'firstname.lastname@example.org (Gmail id of the person sending the message) initiated a chat with you. You may reply to this message like a regular SMS or send HELP for more info.'
The person receiving the SMS can reply to the message as he/she would to any other text message, and the reply will appear as a Chat message in your Gmail account. While Google does not charge for using this service, a mobile provider's standard charges will apply to any SMS message sent from a mobile device to Google Chat.
SMS credit in Chat
By default, all users are granted a credit of fifty messages. Every time you send a message, your credit decreases by one. But every time you receive an SMS message in Chat (when a phone user replies to one of your messages), your credit increases by five, up to a maximum of 50. Also, if your SMS credit goes down to zero at any point, it will go up to one 24 hours later.
Interestingly, users can also buy additional credits. To do this, you can send an SMS to your phone and then reply to that message multiple times, thus increasing the credit limit by 5 for every message received in Chat. So basically, you will be buying more credits by paying your phone company for these outgoing messages.
At the time of the launch (last night), the service was being supported by only a handful of mobile operators in India. But Google has now updated the list, mentioning that all mobile operators in the country support the service.
A few things to keep in mind
To prevent abuse, any Gmail user who sends an excessive number of SMSes (from Gmail) without getting any response in return, will be blocked from sending further SMSes.
The text messages sent from Gmail Chat have their own number associated with the sender's e-mail account.
You can also block unwanted SMSes from individual senders by replying to the message with the word 'BLOCK'. You can also unblock that particular sender later by sending 'UNBLOCK' to the same number.
Additionally, you can completely block messages from Gmail users by texting 'STOP' to the system number of your carrier. You will receive a message confirmation for the same. To reactivate the service, text 'START' to the system number.
The conversations are stored in your chat history just like regular chats. But unlike Gmail Chat, you can't go off the record while communicating via SMS.
Moreover, you can't send SMSes to numbers that are registered with DND (which is quite a setback for the service right from the start).
Google also mentions that the service can become tricky to use at times. "If you send an SMS to a friend who doesn't receive it after a couple of hours, you may want to try again. Text messages can be a little flaky at times, and occasionally encounter some delays before reaching their recipients. If you see a message telling you that 'Something went wrong,' it could indicate that your message is taking a while or that it might not go through at all," read a message on the company's support page.
(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)