Free texting on an iPhone

You dont have to pay $20 a month to AT&T—or any sum at all for that matter–to send and receive text messages on an iPhone. San Jose-based Pinger has just waived the annual $5.99 fee for its popular Textfree Unlimited app—users previously downloaded versions of the app about 4.5 million times. And that means you can send and receive free texts from the iPhone without paying a dime. The catch: you'll have to read some ads. If that's a turnoff—and I didn't find the ads which appeared in the bottom strip of the program bothersome—you can continue to pay $5.99 for a year of unlimited texting.

After fetching the program, you get to choose a phone number that friends can use to send you texts (as opposed to sending those messages to your regular AT&T phone number). And Textfree lets you send and receive messages from an iPod Touch too, provided you have Wi-Fi access.

Through the program's settings, you can change the background themes in which texts are received or the tones that notify you of an incoming text, (everything from a cuckoo clock to a kiss sound.) You can also alter a message “signature” that appears at the bottom of your texts.

Pinger's chief product and marketing guy Joe Sipher told me that going from a paid app in iTunes to the freebie will result in an enormous change of magnitude for downloads. “We go from thousands to tens of thousands of downloads per day,” he says. On the news, Textfree has jumped to number six on the list of top downloaded apps in the App Store.

I first met up with Pinger at a Demo conference in 2006. The company, which is backed by the Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers venture capital firm, hopes to add free voice calling to Textfree this summer.

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