Apple dropped a few announcements today. The big one that Mountain Lion will be the new OS commingling out “this summer”, currently out for developers to play around with. It includes many new features including iCloud integration, Game Center, Notifications, and Social network integration to name a few. In addition to this news, Apple has also allowed non-developers a sneak peak of one of the many new applications. For Mac Lion users (10.7.3 and later) people can download the new Message app that will be replacing iChat. It’s main feature is integration of iMessage into what has been an already pretty stable IM software.
So first things first if you are going to download this: It will delete your old version of iChat. Which when you think about it it makes sense since it’s replacing iChat’s function. The program also is kind enough to take all the settings and accounts already set up from iChat. It’s not that big an issue since it’s a fully functional applications, even with the “Beta” tag. If you need to uninstall it, you can do so from the main menu, and will even reinstall iChat for you.
So what’s different about Message over iChat? The answer is surprising not much. iChat was already a pretty solid application. Buddy list is kept in a separate window with all the chats together in their own window. This new version expands the software to include iMessage and FaceTime functionality.
iMessage acts like you would expect it to within iChat. When you perform the initial set up it asks you to log into to your iCloud account. Once verified, you can edit your iMessage settings from within the Account pane. You can allow for read receipts, as well as add any addition email accounts associated with iMessage (just like on iOS devices).
From there you use it the same way that you use iChat. You message people, send images or movies, even group chats. The difference comes when you go to start a new message with someone that’s using the iMessage service.
Just as when you select someone for a new chat (whether from the plus icon, or just typing in a person’s name) you are presented with a number of possible contacts to use.
The difference now is that any number listed that has iMessage functionality will now have a blue chat icon next to it. Clicking on that contact will instigate an iMessage chat. Any device they have iMessage set up with (and on the network I might note) will receive that message, just as if you were sending this from another iOS device.
Message really acts like it’s brethren on iOS. If your computer is on you’ll be able to get your messages. That means you can start your conversation on your iPad or iPod Touch while going around the house, pick it up when you get back to your desk or chair where your laptop sits, and then continue the conversation on your iPhone while traveling out and about.
FaceTime is something people have been wanting built into iChat for a while now, and the new Message app almost gets it all the way there. FaceTime functionality still exists as a separate app, but clicking the video icon in the upper right corner of the window will automatically link you to be able to call that user. So in theory if you are messaging with someone and need to do a quick video, you only need to click 1 button to be able to do a FaceTime Chat. Might not seem like much, but in practicality much more useful. Will the completed version integrate FaceTime directly into the app? Only time will tell.
There are two things that irk me though. The first is that your computer need to be on in order for you to receive messages. So that means if you are the sort of person to turn off your computer when your not home, won’t have your conversations waiting for you when you get there. It does appears that so long as your computer is on, Message runs in the background (similar to the way FaceTime works), but still would be nice if it could push some sorta cached version to devices that were off. But perhaps that might be a security or privacy issue… not sure.
The second issue might be hinting at something coming from Apple’s own website:
Everything they listed works as expected and is there. But… I looked high and low and found no way for me to send my location. For video & photos it’s simple enough, just drag and drop and it behaves the same as you would on your iPhone. Even attachments work in similar way, getting to the receiver. But location… how does one do that?
And come to think of it, how does one do this on an iOS device. As far as I know you can’t send a location via Messages form any iOS device. You can do it from the Find My Friends app, but not Messages. Is this a sign of upcoming feature in both Mac OS 10.8 and iOS 6 (or 5.5 or something)? Curious.