The number of messaging apps is too damn high

I prefer iMessage, but Hangouts and FB Messenger are actually better apps.

I know that every time I bring this up I may as well be asking, “Can we all just agree to use the platform that I like best?”

Pick your poison: messaging will be fragmented, expensive, or locked-in

Lots of comments like “HOW DO WE CONSOLIDATE ALL THESE MESSAGING PLATFORMS” and I bet the folks at Trillian are trying to figure out what went wrong.

But that isn’t the future.

I keep thinking that AIM could have solved this problem, but they are a legacy chat service. Does anyone really want Adium on iOS anymore? …maybe I would. I would like to see Apple update Messages on iOS with support for all the services that messages on Mac OS has (AIM, Jabber services for Facebook and Google Talk), but I don’t think it will ever happen.

The thing I don’t like about the “JUST USE SMS” argument is just because YOU have unlimited text messaging doesn’t mean that the people you message do. On my plan it costs me another $10 (…maybe $20?) for unlimited SMS messaging. It’s a ripoff and I won’t bite. The result is that I just don’t use SMS and I end up paying for when people send me texts.

I’ve thrown my weight behind iMessage because it’s on every device I have and on the devices most of my family and friends use. Twitter also gets some usage between me and friends. And for messaging Android_ers_ and everybody else I’ve been keeping Verbs around.1

  1. They should change that sound

Teenage Girls and iMessage

My 15-year old niece’s iPod Touch was having a problem. It wouldn’t let her use iMessage.

Strange. I told her we could try fixing it during our family get-together for Easter. She brought it, we disabled it in Settings, tried logging in again. She entered her Apple ID and password. Still didn’t work – the error message said either her userID or her password was wrong. Yes, she turned it on and off again. Yes, she’s on the latest iOS.1

“What if you backed it up and restored?” I asked her.

“I read the forums and lots of people tried that and it still didn’t work for them.”2

It’s strange, because she just upgraded her Macbook to Mountain Lion last week and iMessage works fine there, but not on her iPod Touch. I said maybe it will work in a few days. iMessage is finicky like that.

My sister and I gave our nieces a history lesson. In our day, the late 90’s to the early 00’s, we had ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger. ICQ gave way to AIM. When we were both in college you would often hear doors in the dorms slam – not actual doors, but people who left their computers on and had the sound turned up so everyone could hear the IM log-in and log-off sounds. We would type away messages around dinner time so that people would know where to meet for meals. We had no Status Updates or Tweets. We had away messages.

“Explain to me, what is the teenage hierarchy of communication among you and your friends?” I asked the 15-year old.

Here’s how it works, according to a 15-year old girl. First resort is iMessage.

“Why iMessage?”

“Because it’s built-in. We all use it.”

“But what about your friends without an iOS thing? Aren’t you ostracizing them just because they don’t have one?”

“…everyone has an iPhone.” she says. I don’t think she means iPhones specifically. I think she means iOS devices.

So – you heard it here – teenagers go to iMessage FIRST. This is why it’s kind of a big deal that iMessage isn’t working on her iPod Touch.

“Well, then what?”

“Then we use Snapchat.”

Snapchat, I think, is the one where teenagers could sext each other. Actually, they could sext each other everywhere, but on Snapchat messages expire. She tells me that it doesn’t happen to her and that you have to friend people on Snapchat first before they can send you anything. That’s a little more comforting.

“Then what do you use?”

“Third is Skype.”

Skype is everywhere. On her Mac. On her iPod Touch. I had assumed this was the first thing teenagers go to, but I was wrong. She doesn’t message using Skype, she said. She uses it to video chat.

“Do you use it to do voice calls?”


“Why not?”

“Because…because it does video.”

“If Facetime worked on your iPod do you think you’d use that instead of Skype?”

“…no. Probably not.”

“What about Facebook?”

“Facebook isn’t good for messaging. It’s not good for group messages.”

“Did you try out that Messenger app they have? I like it a lot. It does group messages pretty well.”

“But iMessage is built-in.”

Remember, it isn’t a big deal for her to be able to message Android friends, because she has no Android friends. There are iPod Touch-like devices built on Android, but all her friends use iOS. A 15-year old girl, who is comfortable reading the Apple discussion forums, updating her iOS software, and has nearly 5 pages of apps,3 prefers using built-in services over third-party services.

Let’s recap. For this teenage girl, who I don’t know for sure if her tastes are representative of everyone else her age, but this is the only data point I have, iMessage comes first. Then Snapchat. Then Skype. But Skype isn’t used for messaging. It’s only used for video chatting. And that comes AFTER the fun app that’s used to send pictures around. She thinks she would even use Skype over Facetime. Then, after all that stuff, Facebook – IF SHE HAS TO. She doesn’t use Twitter.

And that’s not really a surprise. With iMessage I don’t have to deal with friend requests or follows. It’s the most direct-line of quick communication ever devised. Even my sisters and I use iMessage as our private Twitter.

On the other hand, until now I had never thought of how I block iMessages from somebody. What if I’m being harassed? Still hasn’t happened…yet.

If you’re a teenager and want to iMessage someone all you’d need to know is their email address. 10-15 years ago we had to exchange buddy names or ICQ numbers.

Things change. They’re simpler now, but still kinda complicated.

  1. Maybe this is the problem – my wifi connections got weaker after this upgrade. 

  2. Let me just take a moment here to note how much things have changed. A 15-year old teenage girl is checking the forums to diagnose problems with her iOS device. She tried to figure out the problem on her own before bringing it to anybody. To a dorky uncle twice her age this is kind of a big deal. Proud moment. 

  3. About 60 of them had an update available. I think she uses almost none of these, otherwise they’d be updated. 

The Death of Chat

This eulogy for MSN Messenger sounds a lot like how I would use AIM and ICQ back in the day. I never signed up for MSN Messenger.

When I was in high school and college, we didn’t have Myspace and Facebook. If you wanted to know what was up with someone you chatted with them on AIM and, before that, ICQ. I would spend a lot of time at night having one-on-one conversations with friends.1

It’s really a sign of how much progress has been made here. In the 90’s there were land-lines. No iPod Touches. No Skype. But computers were new to many families. These weren’t laptops – they were ugly beige towers. Rather than deal with older sisters tying up family’s phone lines (not that I was good on the phone anyway) an underlying culture sprung up around the ICQ UH-OH!.

Today I have nieces and they’re using iMessage, or Skype, or Facebook Messages from their iPod Touches. They bounce around between services depending on where there friends are, I think. Sounds familiar?

You know, I don’t know what the kids these days do anymore. But I know they aren’t using AIM, Google Talk, or other “legacy chat services.”2

  1. I, and others, would also spend way too much time crafting clever away messages. Now there are no away messages. Now we have tweets and status updates. 

  2. This also demonstrates a subtle change between chat and messages. Chat implies “I’m here in this conversation with you, right now.” Messages implies “reply to this when you can – i don’t expect something immediately.” But if it is returned immediately, we can chat. 

There’s No Escaping Messages

Macworld Senior Editor Dan Moren thinks that iMessage and instant messaging are two different things and deserve different applications.

I agree that they are two different things, but I think, for now, they work fine in one app together.1

I’ve settled into using Messages as my main chat client. That’s not really truthful, because I log out of chat services most of the day and leave Messages open to answer the occasional text I get.

Why? Because chat is for “hey, how’s it going”s and iMessage is for “answer this thing right now for me.” And I’m going to get the latter messages one way or another…might as well get them on the computer.

But when I am logged into chat I don’t mind my iMessages and chats being intertwined as much as I thought I would.

The only conflict is picking which protocol should be used, and with iMessage not yet as prevalent on computers as chat protocols like AIM and Gtalk, I’m hesitant in using iMessage to send a chat-like message to someone unless I know they are also using the Messages beta.

Chances are they aren’t. Not yet, at least.

But therein lies another problem—when Mountain Lion is released and people start using iMessage like chat, you won’t really be able to escape it.

  1. And for those of you who would prefer two different apps you could always use Adium for chat and Messages for iMessages. 

“Apple iMessage and Poor User Experiences” by Matt Galligan

These iMessage problems still exist with the new Check out the screen I get when sending a new message.

A lot of these are duplicates. lists every contact’s email address and phone number as a potential iMessage recipient.

I don’t want to have to pick which email or phone number to message. I just want to pick a name and have Apple figure out how to best deliver it.

Also, why can’t I get iMessages delivered to my phone number on my iPad?

Mountain Lion

This bit about Apple’s new version of OS X. Emphasis mine.

Apps have been renamed for cross-OS consistency. iChat is now Messages; iCal is now Calendar; Address Book is now Contacts. Missing apps have been added: Reminders and Notes look like Mac versions of their iOS counterparts. Now that these apps exist for the Mac, to-dos have been removed from Calendar and notes have been removed from Mail, leaving Calendar to simply handle calendaring and Mail to handle email.

Well how about that.

iMessage Doesn’t Belong In iChat

Text messaging is not chatting.

Being logged into iChat means you are telling everyone on your buddy list that you are ready to be involved in conversation.

Anyone who’s used IM services since the late 90s can tell you what a single message can do. It can either be a welcome invitation to conversation that can go on for hours, or a layer of pestering that makes you wonder why you even have your IM software open.1

That layer of potential distraction is the reason I’ve stopped opening iChat, unless I want to be involved in a text-based conversation, which is, admittedly, becoming more rare. When I’m at my Mac I’m usually working, which means I can’t afford the distraction.

iMessage is great on your iOS device, and especially your iPhone. Since cell phones serve as a communication hub, iMessage feels right at home alongside text messages. It is text messaging.2

But I think there’s an unspoken agreement with text messages: that we’re (usually) not going to have long conversations over this medium. You can’t type 80 words per minute on an iPad or iPhone, so texts are kept short and concise.

Texting (I assume unless you’re a teenage girl) usually has a purpose behind it. “Could you get this at the store? Let me know when your flight lands. I’ll be 15 minutes late tonight. Where the fuck are you the show is about to start! I’m breaking up with you—don’t call.”

But an IM chat session, since you’re telling people that you’re ready and available to shoot the breeze, invites “hey, what’s up?”s and casual conversations that serve no purpose other than to catch up with friends. And that’s a fine purpose, but, frankly, not one I’m going to engage in when I need to be focused on something else.

Texting has the same convenience as email: I can leave a message alone and get back to it when I want to. You can’t do that with chat. With chat people get antsy if they don’t hear back from you within a minute. Why? Because this is an ACTIVE medium. You’re supposed to be engaged. Why else would you say you are available to chat?

iMessage has been rumored to make an appearance in iChat since last fall. It’s possible that it’s been ready to go for months. But I wonder if the potential for iMessage to conflict with the core of iChat is what’s held it back, at least until a better method comes along.

  1. Starting with ICQ in the late 90s, I think a whole generation of software users started building the habit of leaving their chat software open all day while they were in their teens. It was convenient too, since in those days nobody under 18 had a cell phone, and you most likely lived in a house where the phone was always tied up. 

  2. I admit that I do not have a text plan, so I avoid texting people. But something happened when iMessage came out and I suddenly became more likely to text people with it enabled than without it.