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Review – Apple Messages Beta

When I was a kid, my family was friends with a gentleman who became the president of Roles Royce of America.  The best advice I ever received from him was to gain advanced communication skills. If I could become an advanced verbal and written communicator, he told me, I would succeed in most any line of business. Its true...which is probably why Apple has taken the tact it has with the release of its latest Mountain Lion tidbit, Messages.  Not only is it a desktop version of its iOS counterpart iMessage, but its unified communications approach brings other desktop chat, messaging and video calling features together in a single application.  Let's take a look at it, and see if it, among other things provide enough allure for you to upgrade to Apple's soon-to-be-released follow up of its desktop operating system. Setup Apple released Messages Beta for all of its desktop and laptop PC's on Thursday 16-Feb-12.  The timed beta, currently requires the latest version of Mac OS X Lion, 10.7.3.  So if you're not running the latest version of Lion, make sure you run Software Update, or better yet, head on over to its Apple Support Page, and download the Combo Updater for the latest version of Lion. Please note that if you like the app and wish to use it after the beta period expires, you're going to need to upgrade to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.  Messages will only run on Mountain Lion after it is officially released. After you install the application, the setup process is initiated.  Messages asks you for your Apple ID, and if you want read receipts sent to you.  After that's done, and you complete setup, it wants to bounce your Mac.  After you restart, you can configure the rest of our accounts.

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AIM auto starts with Messages Enter your Apple ID to get started Check the box if you want read receipts Click Done, and you're done

Instant Messaging and Video Chat Support
If you had iChat installed on your computer, you should see all of your previous accounts show up in Messages Beta.  Its intended to be a replacement for iChat, which is being retired with the release of Mountain Lion.  However, Messages has built in support for AIM, Jabber, Google Talk Bonjour and Yahoo! Instant Messenger.  Messages Beta will also update your status on Facebook, provided you have Facebook’s status updater as a buddy on AIM.

One of the things that I’ve noticed over this past weekend, is that I’m not getting a great deal of AIM IM spam…again.  I’m getting pinged by every porn bot known to man (not by my need, want, desire or design), and its getting a bit annoying. This is why I dropped AIM back in 2007 in the first place. During the review of this Mountain Lion preview app, I have a feeling I’m going to seriously NOT like the fact that I’m getting “hi hottie” IM’s from just about everyone I don’t know.

With the release of Messages Beta, Apple is integrating FaceTime into its standardized IM and chat client.  You can now start a FaceTime video chat with the person you’re trading IM’s with directly from either iMessage, AIM, Yahoo!, etc. provided they also have the appropriate software on their end.  iMessage users on either an iDevice will need to be within the Wi-Fi Zone, or its not going to work.  The iDevice in question will tell you that the other person is not available, or won’t start on your end if you’re on 3G/4G.  FaceTime, Apple’s answer to Skype and other video chat services, functions very well over Wi-Fi; and will even function well under 3G/4G, if you’re using a jail broken iDevice OR if you’re ultimately connecting through a Mobile Hot Spot, as I am.

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New messages are appended to existing conversations …and show up in the existing conversation list A bug..? On my daughter’s phone, my messages started a new conversation

Behavior and Use

I’ve been playing with Messages Beta over the past couple of days; and I have to say, from an iMessage perspective, I like what I see.  I like being able to txt my daughter from my PC, while she is on her iPhone. From this regard, you should be able to send and receive text messages not only with anyone with an Apple ID/iDevice, but with anyone who has a mobile device as well.  However, one interesting development, my text message conversation with my daughter identified me as my Apple ID (email address) and not necessarily as my contact name, on her iPhone.  Her replies, however, came in one consistent conversation, and contained all of the content that was on my iPhone, including messages sent and received prior to me installing Messages Beta on my Mac. I found this very interesting, as it means that you can start a conversation on your iDevice and then continue it without losing any context on the desktop, and as I said, back the other way as well. I’ve not seen this type of conversation behavior in any other product or service.

As a quick aside, while Messages appears and behaves like a near finished application, its clear that there is still some work to be done with it. Once I’ve got a conversation started with someone, I would expect that conversation to stay in the left pane unless and until I remove the conversation from my Mac. Opening and closing the program window doesn’t do this consistently, though the complete conversation history is consistently pulled over each time a new message is initiated and sent. I’ve noticed that if the other party initiates the conversation, then the conversation shows up in the left hand pane of the program window, but again, inconsistently.

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AIM pulls over your existing buddy list, but not your existing iMessage history Messages automatically runs thru your contact list as you type recipient names The actual message display looks like it does on your iDevice Contact details are easily seen
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You can specify alerts and alert types for each contact You can send messages to more than one address & specify what gets sent FaceTime can be configured to use with Messages Beta Configure Messages based on system events
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Control how your conversations appear Configure different type of messaging accounts to work with Messages Beta Setup your account after choosing the type you want Configure Messages general settings

Price:  Timed Beta. Requires OS X 10.7.3. Released version will only run on OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion

Pros:

  • iDevice and desktop client message integration.
  • All your messages show up in a single contact conversation, regardless of where you had the conversation

Cons:

  • IM SPAM tools need to step it up
  • Lack of a consolidated interface

Conclusion:
For a beta app, Messages delivers a really great iMessage experience.  The app pulls in the entire conversation from all of your iDevices, and allows you communicate with all of your contacts in a clean, easy to use desktop interface.  As a replacement for iChat, it does a decent job, though the interface between iMessage and your other IM accounts is kept completely separate.  This may be good and bad, as it definitely keeps their spam ridden chocolate out of my nice iOS-based peanut butter. However, I would like to see some kind of UI consolidation, and we may in future releases or even in the released version that comes with Mountain Lion.  As this is an early release, its clear that much if not the entire enchilada could change.

At the beginning of this review process, I thought I wanted all of my IM accounts (ICQ, AIM, Yahoo!, Skype, etc.) to all come together in one single interface, and since getting spammed by every porn bot known to man, I’m really glad that this isn’t the case. However, its very easy to kill my AIM account integration and just let that go. I haven’t used it in years anyway. It might also be nice to see support for Facebook Messenger as well as Twitter Direct messages; but getting those integrated may take a bit of doing.

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