So Long iChat, Hello Messages

If you saw our post earlier, then you know that Apple dropped a bomb on us with a sneak preview of the upcoming Mountain Lion update to OS X. James touched briefly on the handful of new features that Apple announced, all of which are exciting and intend to bring an even more iOS-like experience to your Mac. However, because I’m particularly interested in communication, I’m going to go a little bit more in depth with one particular feature of OS X Mountain Lion: Messages.

Messages is the new Mac app that replaces iChat, and the beta is available for download today. I’ve been toying with it all morning, and I have to say that I’m very pleased with it. Hit the jump to see what it’s all about.

It’s All About The Unified Experience

I’ve been absolutely crazy about the things that Apple has done with iOS. I loved the announcement for iMessage, and I thought that the re-imagined FaceTime was great. What always concerned me, though, was the widening gap between the established methods of communicating on the Mac (iChat, and it’s A/V features) and the new technologies that were being implemented across the board. Sure, I downloaded the FaceTime app, but I didn’t see why I’d ever use it for Mac-to-Mac when I can make video calls in iChat. Similarly, having a messaging service that allowed iPhones and iPads to talk to each other, but left Macs out seemed to further widen that gap.

If the Messages beta has shown me one thing, it’s that this is what Apple has been moving toward since they began reinventing these services. It completely unifies the experience of communicating on an Apple product, beginning with the interface.

The Messages for Mac interface is, not surprisingly, almost identical to that of the iPad.

The Messages for Mac interface is, not surprisingly, almost identical to that of the iPad.

You can see straight away that the app was designed to mimic the feel of using Messages on the iPhone or, more specifically, the iPad. All the way down to the details, including adding recipients to a message, the service being used displayed in the input field, the blue dot next to an unread message, and even the “…” icon denoting that the other person is typing, Messages feels much more like using an iOS device than using iChat.

Simply choose someone from your Address Book to message.

Simply choose someone from your Address Book to message.

Messages also behaves in certain ways that make the communication experience more seamless between devices. Conversations are synced in full between devices, so that no matter where you are you can pick up where you left off. Chat windows support multimedia, as well.

Perhaps best of all, the unified feel of the Messages experience extends to FaceTime. Starting a video conversation with a friend is as easy as clicking the FaceTime icon and selecting a channel.

Select a video chat medium and begin FaceTiming.

Select a video chat medium and begin FaceTiming.

Now that FaceTime is the premier option for Mac-to-Mac, it’s nice to be able to use the same app, regardless of whether my friend is using his iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

Integrated Services

The biggest downfall, I think, when Apple released Messages for iPad was that it was only going to work with other iMessage users. I have a lot of friends who use Apple devices, but not all of them do.

Messages for Mac retains all of the functionality that iChat had, including AIM, Jabber, Bonjour, and Google Talk support. So now you can chat with your AIM friends, and your iMessage friends, in the same unified window. You can even seamlessly switch between communication channels.

Change chat channels mid conversation. "Why?" you ask? I say "Why not?"

Change chat channels mid conversation. "Why?" you ask? I say "Why not?"

One more thing I’d like to note here is that, as far as I can tell, the search bar in Messages’ combined window will actually search any of your saved iChat logs, and pull the results up in Messages format. As someone who enjoys having, and saving, in-depth conversations with people online, having this feature built in is exceptionally handy, allowing me to quickly reference anything from any conversation, without having to remember which day of the year that conversation took place.

Final Thoughts

Messages doesn’t perfectly meld all of my Apple devices together into a flawless communication and productivity fleet. Aside from certain identification issues, such as being able to bind my iPhone number to each of my devices, or to communicate with my AIM friends through Messages on my phone, I noticed that Twitter user @shawnblanc captured my biggest complaint quite nicely:

I think that Messages is a step in the right direction, and probably the most exciting of the upcoming apps that Apple could have chosen to release in beta today. It, and Mountain Lion in general, introduces some interesting (and for some, exciting) changes to OS X. Some of you, however, might still be harkening back to the days of System 6, and can take or leave all of this iOS business. Let us know what you think about this crash course between iOS and OS X!


Apple's new iChat replacement in Mountain Lion unifies communication between OS X and iOS devices. The beta is available for Lion starting today.