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. 

Messages Beta

Download Messages Beta and get a taste of what’s coming in OS X Mountain Lion. When you install Messages, it replaces iChat. But iChat services will continue to work. And Messages brings iMessage to the Mac — just like on iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch running iOS 5. Here are the features you can expect with Messages:

  • Send unlimited iMessages to any Mac, iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch.*
  • Start an iMessage conversation on your Mac and continue it on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch.
  • Send photos, videos, attachments, contacts, locations, and more.
  • Launch a FaceTime video call and bring the conversation face-to-face.
  • Messages supports iMessage, AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk, and Jabber accounts.

All that stuff is finally merged together,1 and it’s clear Apple is trying to get away from “chat”.

  1. In a weird way. The buddy list is still around for when you use the traditional chat services, but when you use iMessage you get a window similar to what’s on the iPad. And no more status messages. 

Engadget’s Preview of Mountain Lion

Still gotta read this, but you can see that the thing I wrote this morning about how iChat’s potential incorporation of iMessages, and how it feels off, looks like it could get resolved in their new Messages app. The concept of the two window, buddy list and chat window, model is gone, thankfully.

iChat, you’ve had a good run — well, a decent one, at least. But Apple’s desktop messaging system was never quite so user-friendly as the one offered up in iOS. So, rather than trying to make iChat more like iMessage, Apple is simply swapping one out for the other. That’s a theme you’ll see here across these updates — where Apple found a shortcoming in OS X, it didn’t rejigger the existing app or attempt to start from scratch; it simply ported functionality over from iOS.

Also, goodbye Growl.

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. 

“Why I Hate Video Chat” by Rod Bastanmehr

…I anticipated I’d enjoy it so much more. That it would become an extension of online chatting, making it more intimate and personal, giving us the opportunity to be with one another no matter where we are. Turns out it’s actually the most awkward 40-plus minutes you’ll spend in a given day.

Nobody Facetimes

Ichat novideo

I’ve been trying to use IM a bit more for keeping in touch with friends, although usually what happens is I talk to the same few people instead of reaching out to people I haven’t chatted with in a while. I don’t usually tweet out personal life things and Facebook has become way too noisy for anything useful anymore. During moments like this morning, when I’m just sitting and web surfing, I’ll open iChat and see what happens.

With iChat becoming more Adium-like in Lion1 I thought I’d give iChat with Chax a try again, thinking that iChat would give me something I’d never tried before: webcam chats.

But what I’m finding out is that nobody I know has, or has enabled, an iSight/Facetime camera. So, for me, Adium’s biggest drawback–the lack of voice and audio chats–is a moot point.

I guess they’re all on Skype.

  1. iChat for Lion consolidates duplicate contacts from multiple services in a single contact, like Adium has done for years. It also will add some kind of plugin system, like Adium has had for years. This is similar to other cases where Apple has developed third-party advancements into their own software, but this kind of thing is a natural progression for chat software. I’ve loved Adium ever since I started using it when I got my first Mac about 9 years ago, and have donated to the project, but with this new iChat adding all these features I don’t see why anyone would continue to use it after Lion…except for things like custom event notifications. I love those in Adium.