Picture messaging, technically known as Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), is a messaging system for sending images, videos, audio and other rich multimedia over the cellular network. Picture messaging is really the predecessor of text messaging and was developed within the 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Program) which is an organization focused on GSM cell phone network standards. The MMS standard covers more than just picture messaging and is the standard for sending audio clips, video clips and other multimedia to cell phones.
Developed in the early 2000's, picture messaging became widespread in Europe and Asia around 2002 and then became popular in the US as MMS capable handsets began to hit the market around 2004/2005. It's unknown if Verizon, Cingular, AT&T or T-Mobile were the first to launch their MMS network in the United States. Verizon was not one of the first carriers to have phones capable of picture messaging, however it was one of the first and largest carriers to use MMS as a way to deliver content, typically ringtones, through it's Get It Now platform now known as Verizon V CAST.
One of the first MMS capable handsets to hit the market was the Sony Ericsson T68i, released in 2002. This was a GSM based phone for European networks. The Sony Ericsson T68i was launched with a highly effective stealth marketing campaign. Before being released, Sony Ericcson paid actors to pretend to be tourists and ask people to take pictures of them with their Ericcson T68i!
Many phones in the US today, including many Smartphones like the Blackberry 8700 series, are still not fully MMS capable as of 2008. The most notable cell phone these days that cannot receive picture messages would be the Apple iPhone. The Apple iPhone features a built in camera for taking pictures, however users cannot send them via MMS from the iPhone. Instead, as a work around, users have been sending the picture messages as email attachments. It's expected that a software update from Apple for the iPhone will add true picture messaging capabilities sometime in 2008.
As of 2008 the worldwide MMS market is worth more than $72 billion and is projected to increase for years to come. Just 3 years ago (2005) the MMS industry was worth $42.5 billion, which was double it's 2004 figure!
It's clear that MMS is the way of the future and is here to stay in 2008 and beyond!