Messages for Mac (Beta)

In the next phase of fully integrating every Apple product into every aspect of your life, Apple announced this week the beta release of Messages for Mac: an upgrade to iChat that fully integrates with your iOS products like iPhones, iPads, etc.

Y’know that nifty iMessage trick on your iPhone? It’s coming to your Mac, as well. And you can try it out for free right now.

I know, I know: I’m a fanboy, and it’s absurd how Apple obsessed I am. (Give me some credit, I’ve resisted the urge to buy an iPad!) But yes, I’m intrigued by the nifty new Apple toy, and I’m here to tell you about it.

First, you need to download the Messages for Mac beta app, which will eventually be part of the next Mac operating system. This beta test, while not quite complete, is completely free.

Try me. You know you want to.

Once you install it, it will replace your iChat utility with this new slightly spruced up app, and you can get started. If you already had settings in iChat (your AIM account, your Google Talk account, your Facebook or Yahoo messengers, etc.) these will all import automatically into your new app with no effort.

But before you get too excited, let me give you a couple of warnings:

  1. You have to make sure that your Messages app on your Mac and your Messages settings on your iPhone, iPad, etc. are using the same email address. Seems like a no-brainer, but I confess, it stymied me at first. (And yes, this means you have to double-check your Messages settings on your iPhone/iPad to ensure that you’ve included both your telephone number and your email address or Apple ID, or you’re off the grid.)
  2. Messages sent via iMessage or Messages for Mac to you (targeted by your Apple ID or email address) will go to all devices that are open, so if you’ve got both your computer and your iPhone on, your entire conversation will replay itself on both. This is great if you want to continue a conversation on the go, but it can be a little annoying if the buzzing of your phone is distracting you while you’re on the computer.
  3. Instant messages from other services, even if used through Messages for Mac, will not go with you. That means if you’re using Messages for Mac to chat with someone through your AIM or Google Talk accounts, for instance, it’s not going to carry that conversation across devices. Only your sensible friends who have wisely taken Apple products can enjoy this benefit with you.
  4. Speaking of other services, if you’re a fan of FaceTime, get ready to be annoyed: though the Messages for Mac app does sensibly have a button in the upper right corner to allow you to initiate a FaceTime conversation with someone, it actually goes and opens the FaceTime app itself rather than just beginning the video chat in the iMessages window. That seems clunky and will hopefully be fixed in the final release — it’s not like Apple to connect things together that way when they could presumably be fully integrated fairly easily.
  5. If someone — even someone with an iPhone — sends you a txt msg to your mobile number, it won’t route itself to your computer as well. So you’re going to have to train your Apple-product-wielding friends to send iMessages to your email address (the same one you’ve applied to the Messages settings on both your iPhone and your Mac) if you want the message to track you down regardless of which device you’re using. And you’re going to message them the same way in return.

This last piece is what’s going to be the trickiest for me, because it defies the normal habit of just sending txt msgs to people’s telephone numbers. If Apple users successfully retrain themselves to send iMessages (or Messages via their Mac app) rather than txt msgs, though, this will definitely be big shift in how we communicate.

And of course, it’ll be a big jab in the side to mobile telephone service providers, who may see that interest in their txt msg packages declines quickly. But then, they said that when “iMessages” first came out, and one has to wonder how much that’s just hype.

In the end, this really does get us a little bit closer to the day in which we’re seamlessly connected to one another, anywhere and everywhere we choose to be, through whichever devices (large or small) we wish.

So c’mon, Mac users… who wants to play with the new toy? Hit me up and we’ll try it out.

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