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Google withdraws Gmail SMS chat function

Bugs may take up to two weeks to fix

Google has temporarily withdrawn a feature allowing Gmail users to communicate with mobile phones using SMS.

Google added the function, which allowed US-based Gmail users to chat via Instant Messaging (IM) with friends who weren't sat at a computer or surfing the web, to Gmail Labs late last week. Users simply typed a phone number in the Chat search box or searched a contact by name and then clicked the 'Send SMS' option.

The person receiving an SMS from Gmail's Chat would see it as coming from a Google-generated mobile phone number, which could then be used by other mobile phone users to send text messages that would pop up in your Gmail Chat window.

However, the service isn't free. The person receiving SMS messages from you via Gmail Chat will be charged by their mobile carrier each time you hit enter in the chat window. The same applies if they reply to that message. While sending the messages from Gmail is free, at the receiving end users will pay standard text messaging rate.

Previously, Gmail users could only communicate with mobile phones via email.

However, according to Google's blog, a glitch was discovered in the function.

"When you'd try to turn it on, it wouldn't fully enable. We thought about keeping it out there - bugs and all - but the experience wasn't that great. So, in the spirit of Labs, we've pulled SMS chat back to fix it," said product manager Leo Dirac.

Google estimates that it should be around two weeks before the service is made available again. No details on when the service would launch in the UK were available.

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