HOUSTON It may seem like smartphone users are always looking down and typing (or tapping)away, but believe it or not, they re SMS texting less and less.

Research group Chetan Sharma Consulting earlier this week said that in the last four months, SMS texting was on the decline in the United States for the first time ever. That s because many people are now using apps to communicate, rather than the old fashioned text message.

Still, most people use SMS, or short message service, to text. This is the part of your phone bill that usually costs you about $20 to $30 a month. But what if you eliminated this and went all in with apps?

Many people are already SMStexting less without even realizing it, whether it be through Facebook messages, Twitter, or Skype.

==iMessage ==
If you have an iPhone, you already have an app that s replacing SMS for you automatically, as long as it s turned on. It s a feature called iMessage, and it s blended in with your standard texting app. (Check the Messaging area in your Settings app.) If you re texting with others who also have iMessage enabled on their iPhone or iPad, then the background of the text will be blue instead of green. When it s blue, that means the messages aren t counting against your phone bill s SMS plan. Instead, these messages are running over the Internet through your data plan or your Wi-Fi connection. You can even disable SMS on your phone so you don t accidentally rack up charges of $.20 per message in the event iMessage can t be used. The only downside to this is you can only communicate with those who also have an iOS device with iMessage enabled.

== WhatsApp ==
WhatsApp is a very popular SMS alternative similar to iMessage, but it works on Android, Windows Phone, iPhone, and more. It s a one-time $.99 download with no monthly cost unlimited texting over your data plan, video and pics included.

If you re worried about using your data plan s bandwidth up, don t be. It d likely take millions of text messages monthly to even get into the 100s of megabytes.

The real problem with apps is for parents. It can be more difficultto monitor what s going on, unlike texts which show up on your phone bill. Here are a few quick tips:

1-- Enable restrictions on your child s devices: Yes, you can limit and password protect which apps can and can t be installed or used
2 To make it easier to monitor and restrict, limit your child s device to only one messaging app, and make sure they know the rules and that you'll be watching over them
3 -- Sign up for a monitoring service like Mobistealth; All good monitoring services come with some kind of fee, so make sure you do a Google search to make sure it s worth it (many of them are garbage) and to make sure it can actually monitor whichever messaging apps your children use

Questions? Comments? Feel free to reach out to Doug on Facebook ( Twitter (@DougDelonyKHOU)

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