iMessage and FaceTime and iChat, oh my!
This year at WWDC 2011 Apple announced iMessage, a BBM-like instant messaging service built right into the SMS/MMS app. They also built Twitter right into the OS, for clip sharing in Safari, Photos, etc. and come this fall, authentication for the official Twitter app and others. Last year at WWDC 2010 they introduced FaceTime, a video calling service that existed first in the Phone app, then later in its own app on iPod touch, Mac, and iPad. Back in 2002, Apple introduced iChat, an instant messaging service that eventually gained video calling and video conferencing support, as well as desktop sharing and more.
iMessages is proprietary and only on iOS right now. Twitter is proprietary but cross-platform. FaceTime is a collection of open standards that Apple has promised to release the specs for but hasn't as of yet. It's also iOS and Mac OS X only right now. iChat uses both proprietary (like AIM) and open (like Jabber) protocols, with different level of feature and functionality support depending on which you use (though you can use more than one). It's Mac only, but the protocols can be used in other apps on other platforms.
iMessage and FaceTime can both use the same Apple ID, and I can launch into FaceTime via a button in iMessage, but they don't really work together, not the way Skype calls and chat do, for example. Twitter is treated like a separate systems, and iChat is an island all its own.
I can't iMessage someone on Mac or Windows. I can't iChat someone on iOS unless they install a 3rd party app like BeeJive or AIM, and I can't easily switch between text video/voice in the same app.
iChat on Mac OS X could conceivably become a blended iMessage and FaceTime client. Change iChat's name to iMessage and have FaceTime calls as easy to launch from Mac OS X (and hopefully Windows one day) as they are on iOS. Add a similar way to switch back from FaceTime and things might "just work" better.
However, Apple seems to be improving the iChat app in Mac OS X Lion all on its own, with no iMessage or FaceTime support in sight. So that doesn't look like an immediate possibility.
Hopefully Apple is working on this, and we won't have to wait for iOS 7 and Mac OS X 10.8 to get a grand, unified messaging system.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.
In their eyes, iChat is for AIM, FaceTime is the new video chat.
iChat and iMessage are similar but different. iMessage is supposed to mimic texting, which is slightly different to instant messaging. I think there is a more likely chance of iMessage and iChat being combined (at least on the Mac side), but with no iChat for iOS, I am doubtful.
I would expect some form of Mac OSX iMessage though. Whether that be combined into iChat, or a separate app, is anyone's guess. Notably, Lion got push notifications, so iMessage makes even more sense, with that functionality available (no need to keep an app open, etc).
But yeah, it is frustrating.
For Apple, this should be an evolutionary step. One application to house all features instead of iChat, iMessage, Facetime being separate.
I'm suggesting the same thing for Google and their Voice, Talk/Video.
If both Apple and Google could combine their products in their camps, then offer cross platform ability (i.e. Facetime/iMessage/iChat users being able to text/video/call with Google Voice/Talk/Video users). Both Android and iOS would just become so much better...basically destroying the need for 3rd place OS but still pushing each other to innovate their ass off.
It doesn't seem to far out of the realm of possibility that Apple simply replaces iChat with a new iMessage client for Lion. However, FaceTime seems to be - intentionally - an entirely different product.
This is probably because while text/messaging is a fairly standard feature (barring the innovations inherent to iMessage), FaceTime is billed as a feature unto itself.
Whether that will change in the future remains to be seen; however, it seems likely that, at least in the short term, Apple will keep iChat/iMessage and FaceTime as separate apps.
The great thing about FaceTime over iChat's video calling is not only that you can call phone to phone and phone to desktop but that you can initiate a Facetime call to any device without that device being logged in or the other party having the app open. In fact you don't even need a proper login for FaceTime you just register your existing phone number or email address.
The problem with FaceTime when it was launched was that it left computers out of the equation allowing only phones (and only new phones at that) to use this functionality. When it came to the mac it replaced the need for iChat.
iMessage now needs to connect to macs as well to be truly useful. Once that's done, and possibly you can initiate FaceTime calls straight from iMessage, who needs iChat anymore?