MMS Texts & SMS Texts: What's the Difference? [2024]

February 23, 2024 (Updated) | By Sam Pelton
Phone receiving MMS text

What are MMS texts? What are SMS texts?

These are common terms related to texting. But what do they actually mean?

The differences are typically inconsequential for the average person trying to send text messages.

But for the businessperson or marketer, these differences become very important.

So let’s go through these terms and how they apply to you.

What Are SMS Texts?

SMS (short messaging service) texts are the default way that text messages are sent over a mobile network and delivered to a recipient’s mobile device, without any image or attachment capabilities.

SMS texts are plain text or can include emojis, but cannot include file attachments or be more than 160 characters.

(When you receive a simple text message from your spouse or your mom, and if the message bubble looks green on your phone—more on that later—that’s an SMS.)


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What Are MMS Texts?

MMS (multimedia messaging service) texts are text messages that are capable of handling more data when sent over a mobile network. The greater data capabilities means they can include more characters and can also include attachments such as graphics.

(In other words, an MMS is basically the same as an SMS—but with pictures!)


Phone receiving text with graphic
Phone receiving text with graphic

Why Are Text Bubbles Different Colors? (iMessage)

If you use an iPhone, you’ll find that some of your text message bubbles are blue and some are green. Why is that?

The green text bubbles are indicating that the message was sent via the regular SMS/MMS routes.

The blue text bubbles are indicating that the message was sent via iMessage.

While there are many other text messaging methods besides SMS and MMS, iMessage is one of the most prominent in the United States.

Close to 50% of smartphone users have an iPhone in the US. And most of these users, whether they know it or not, probably use iMessage regularly.

iMessage is Apple’s own messaging service—if someone using an iPhone or other Apple device sends a text message to another Apple user, the message is usually processed via iMessage rather than SMS or MMS.

iMessage and similar messaging apps such as Facebook’s Messenger app give more flexibility and options than SMS or MMS texts. With iMessage, a user can send reactions (such as “liking” a message), send message effects, record their voice, and other similar features.

In addition, iMessage and similar apps can provide read receipts, so that the user can see if the recipient has seen the message.

At this time, iMessage texts can’t typically be sent for business purposes.

Phone showing iMessage vs SMS

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What Should I Know About MMS Texts and SMS Texts for My Business?

If you’re just a casual texter who is curious about how texting your family and friends works, you don’t really need to be concerned about the difference between MMS and SMS. You won’t typically notice a difference when you send your messages.

However, if you’re sending text messages for your business, it’s good to know the difference between SMS and MMS for a couple of reasons.

1. MMS Texts Usually Give a Better Experience Than SMS

It’s commonly known that, by and large, people respond to visuals.

We are visual beings and therefore are attracted to visually appealing images.

Recognizing this observation about human psychology can help you understand how sending MMS with attractive graphics could have a greater impact for your business than sending plain-text SMS.

For example, instead of a text-only notice about your company’s flash sale, you can send an eye-catching graphic illustrating what the sale is all about, to go along with your text message.

So why not only send MMS texts for all of your texting campaigns? Why would you ever send SMS?

That question is answered by the next point…

2. MMS Texts Cost More to Send Than SMS

Sending MMS (picture messages) involves processing more data. Hence, it costs more for SMS platforms to submit these messages on your behalf.

Since MMS have higher operating costs, these additional fees are passed down to the one actually sending the message.

So what does that mean for you?

It means that if you want to send a picture message, you’ll need to be aware that most texting platforms will charge more credits per message to send them.

Mobile Text Alerts, for example, charges 3 messaging credits for each MMS (as opposed to 1 credit for each SMS).

HOWEVER, this cost is sometimes mitigated by the following point…

3. MMS Texts Can Include More Characters Than SMS

An SMS can, in reality, only include 160 characters per message.

You may not realize this limitation because most phone carriers engage in a process called concatenation.

What this means is that mobile carriers are able to detect if a message longer than 160 characters was sent—and instead of splitting up the message into segments of 160 each (like they used to do), they are able to take the segments and display them as a single unit on the recipient’s device.

While the 160+ character-long message is technically sent as multiple segments, the mobile carriers and their devices are “smart” enough to be able to display them as a single message on the recipient’s phone.

All of that is to say that while SMS is less expensive for businesses to send than MMS, it is only less expensive to a point. For example, with Mobile Text Alerts, once a message reaches 160 characters it counts as 2 messages, and once a message reaches 320 characters, it counts as 3 messages.

So once you get a long enough message (320 characters or more), you’re not actually saving any money by sending it as an SMS without a picture, because MMS allow up to 1,550 characters and always count as 3 messages (regardless of how many characters you use to send it).

All of that is a little confusing, so here’s a summary:

  • Sending an MMS costs 3 messaging credits toward your account balance
  • Sending an SMS costs 1 messaging credit toward your account balance unless the text is more than 160 characters
  • Sending an SMS with more than 320 characters sends 3 texts and costs 3 messaging credits from your account balance
  • Therefore, if your message is more than 320 characters, it doesn’t cost you any more to send MMS texts

4. A Few Other Considerations

A few other things to consider…

  • Even now in 2023, not everyone has a phone with full MMS capabilities—this means that there’s a slight possibility that some people may not receive your messages if you send them as MMS
  • Not everyone has unlimited texting on their phones—this means that there’s a slight possibility that some people may have to pay carrier fees to receive your messages, and these fees may cost more for receiving MMS

These are minor concerns because they may not impact anyone in your audience, but it’s good to be aware of those potential issues with MMS.

The differences between sms and mms

Which to Use: SMS or MMS?

So, with all of the above in mind, which is better to use? SMS or MMS?

The bottom line comes down to how much you’re willing to spend.

In general, MMS texts are the better option in terms of recipient engagement (especially for marketing campaigns), because they allow you to include images and they allow you to send longer messages. BUT they cost more to send.

However, if the information you’re sending is just a simple update (such as an account notification or an appointment reminder), or if you’re budget-conscious, an SMS will do just fine.

And in the end, it may come down to your own specific audience—you can run a test to see whether or not your audience actually responds better to MMS.

If you don’t find much of a difference in audience response between SMS and MMS, you can save some cash in your pocket by sticking to SMS.

How to Send SMS and MMS Texts

You can send either SMS or MMS texts through an online texting platform like Mobile Text Alerts.

These platforms allow you to manage a database of contacts and send mass texts directly through the platform—or through a mobile app or text message API.

All you’ll need to do is:

  1. Create an account
  2. Load in contacts (or have people sign themselves up for your texts)
  3. Set up your message on the online dashboard—on the dashboard you’ll be able to designate whether you’d like to send your message as an SMS or an MMS
    • You can also set this up by downloading a mobile app
    • Another way to send the message is by programming it via API

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