Why is it that Apple has three messaging apps?


Back when Apple brought out FaceTime, I couldn’t get why it had to make a separate video chat app when it already had iChat. Now we have a third app included with iOS 5, called iMessage. Why?

If the people at Apple are intent on making little messaging apps, each with their micro-purpose, then I’d like to suggest some new ones to them:

  • iShmooze: giving people a direct chat line to their boss or work hierarchy
  • iRx: so you can chat about your medications with your neighbors and know-it-all relatives, and get better prescription advice than from your doctor
  • iExChat: for venomous quips exchanged between ex-spouses and other ex-es…
  • iSeeAds: for people interested in seeing targeted ads; perhaps you can work in a micro-pyramid scheme where people can get something like 1-5 cents when they view an ad or invite their friends to view ads; that should be popular…
  • iSeeDeadPeople: photo sharing for zombie and vampire lovers
  • iPotty: for those who love to share those precious moments in the bathroom
  • iAte: see above and substitute food; this one could come with a photo sharing option, for those who love taking photos of said food; in hindsight, perhaps the photo sharing option could be extended to the iPotty app as well, I saw some folks online who would be interested in that.

For a company renowned for its design and the clear focus of its products, I’m surprised to see three messaging apps. Why? Didn’t anyone put their hand up to say, “Hey, don’t we already have iChat?”

Perhaps it makes sense to have the separation, from a software and procotol perspective. Perhaps iChat was designed for the computer. Perhaps the AOL messaging protocols it still uses aren’t suited for the purposes of FaceTime and iMessage. But it still makes NO sense.

If Apple was able to take OS X and turn it into iOS, then take features from iOS and put them back into OS X, then it’s quite capable of making iChat the go-to app for all its messaging needs. Rewrite it and make it work! It’s already incredibly capable on the desktop. It can do text chat, audio chat, video chat, file sharing and screen sharing. I use it all the time to do video conferencing with my parents, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, and I use it for screen sharing as well, when I help them troubleshoot issues on their computers or simply teach them how to use them better. Why in the world would you leave a capable app like that behind and write a new one called FaceTime? And then why would you further fragment that segment and make another one called iMessage? Why?

I’d like to see iChat be the one and only app that does everything this set of three apps does and more. I’d like to challenge the people at Apple to make it work the way it should work, tailored to the capabilities of each device where it will be installed.


The skinny on the new iPhone 3G

At the 2008 WWDC keynote, Steve Jobs introduced the new iPhone 3G. As it turned out, most of the rumors about it were true. Here’s the rundown on the things that made it into the new phone:

  • 3G: YES. This was by far the biggest rumor, and it made sense for Apple to bring it to life. What’s nice is that it continues to support EDGE in addition to WiFi, so now users have three networks they can use.
  • Skinnier, hence the title of this post: YES, at the edges, which are tapered.
  • Less expensive: YES. $199 for 8GB or $299 for 16GB, BUT only with a 2-year contract with AT&T.
  • Built-in GPS for real-time mapping and tracking AND photo geotagging: YES.
  • iPhone 2.0 software, which includes support for third party apps, making it super easy to add functionality to your phone through the App Store: YES.
  • Enterprise features: YES. But we knew these were coming, because Steve Jobs and Phill Schiller had demoed them months ago. This includes support for Microsoft Exchange through ActiveSync, over-the-air push email, contact and calendar syncing, remote wipe and Cisco IPsec VPN.
  • Seamless integration with MobileMe, the replacement for .Mac: YES. We suspected this would happen when word got out last week that Apple had secretly purchased for approximately 11 million dollars.

Now here’s what didn’t make it:

  • Unlocked phone: NO. I knew that sounded too good when people announced it. You can’t drop the iPhone to $199 and ALSO unlock it. It has too many features, it’s too advanced. When you have half-baked unlocked phones that cost $300 to $400, you’re not going to get an unlocked iPhone 3G for less. So, we’re stuck with AT&T, and with 2-year contracts.
  • Video chats through iChat/Skype: NOT SPECIFIED. This was my #1 feature request for the new iPhone. I’d really hoped they’d let us do video chats on the phone. After all, it has a camera, and it can record video. No official guidance yet on this. Does anyone have any specifics?
  • 5 megapixel camera: NO. That’s annoying. Still stuck with an underpowered 2 megapixel camera. Perhaps the photos it takes are better this time around.
  • Cut and paste: NO. I know of several people that were eagerly awaiting this feature. Apparently, it didn’t make it to the iPhone yet. But thankfully it’s a software, not a hardware issue, so it can be implemented later.

New features introduced without rumors:

  • 3G dock: YES. Apparently, faster, and will let you do speakerphone calls.
  • Compact USB power adapter: YES. It’s significantly smaller.
  • Bluetooth headset: YES. It’s made specifically for iPhone.

I was one of the people who held out for iPhone 2.0 –namely, this one — when the first version came out last year. Will I now purchase one? Not sure. I really wanted to be able to do video chats on the iPhone, and if it turns out that I still can’t, it may be a deal breaker for me. Plus, being hobbled with a 2-year AT&T contract is not the kind of commitment I enter into lightly. I don’t know, I’ll have to think about this. At any rate, I’ve got until July 11th to make up my mind.

Photos courtesy of Apple, Inc. More info can be found in Apple’s original press release and on the iPhone website.


To buy or not to buy an Apple

Updated 3/7/08: My opinion has changed quite a bit since I wrote this post. I am now going to get a 15″ MacBook Pro after working on a Windows laptop for the past two years. Feel free to read this further though, because it shows how far things have come since then.

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately, because I’m looking at buying a new laptop. I’ve got this terrible dichotomy in my head. On one hand, I love Macs, and I’d love to get a Mac, but on the other hand, most of the work I do (web development stuff) is still handcuffed to Windows. It’s not minor stuff, either: Access, SQL Server, ASP, ASP.NET.

Yes, I know, I can run Windows on the Mac with Boot Camp now, but have you taken a look at the caveats? Apple’s had to write the Windows drivers for the Apple hardware, and certain things simply won’t work. Among them are: the Apple Remote Control, the Apple Wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, Apple USB Modem, the sudden motion sensor, the ambient light sensor, and, most importantly, the built-in iSight camera.

The very reasons I want to get an Apple – fantastic design, tight integration when it comes to software and hardware, obsessive attention to detail – are stopping me from getting one. Since I’ll need to run Windows on it, and my cool Apple hardware won’t work with Windows, what’s the point? I’ll be forever shutting down either Mac OS or Windows XP in order to use the features I want out of each system. Want to use iChat to talk with my wife? Oops, need to boot up in Mac OS. Need to do a bit of development work? Oops, got to boot up in Windows. Got to use Skype Video Chat? Double oops there, since only the Windows version can use a webcam, and iSight doesn’t work in Windows!

As if laptop hard drives aren’t small enough, I’ll need to partition the drive and share it with Windows. Not cool! On the one hand, I want to handle photos, music and videos on the Mac, filling up the drive with that stuff. On the other hand, I need to do development work and create large graphics in Photoshop and sites in Dreamweaver, both of which are Windows licenses, by the way. I work with large files there as well, and I know I’ll fill up that drive. What am I supposed to do? Shuffle files between the two operating systems using an external drive? Sounds easy enough, until you realize that Mac OS doesn’t read NTFS partitions and Windows doesn’t read Mac drives. Huh? Yup, it means you can’t copy files bigger than 4GB to that external drive, since it needs to be formatted in FAT.

Oh yes, let me not forget about emulation/virtualization software… Or rather, let me forget. I still shudder at the dismal performance of Virtual PC on my PowerBook G4 or my iMac G5. Yuck! Everything crawled, including the web browser. Copying files back and forth between the operating systems, although it was only a drag-and-drop operation, was excruciatingly slow. Running software like Dreamweaver took forever, needless to say. Virtualization software like VMWare, running Windows on Windows, albeit a little faster, was still slow in the desktop version. Although the speed should improve if virtualization software is run on the new Intel Macs, I don’t hold high hopes for it.

There are plenty of caveats with virtualization, other than performance. Software doesn’t always behave as expected, because it’s not a real computer, and certain things simply aren’t available. Then there’s that always disappointing jump between the real OS and the virtual OS. Although it’s as easy as Alt+Tab on Windows or Command+Tab on the Mac, the performance hit is depressing every time one needs to use the virtual machine. I tried other emulation software as well. Q, was one of them, and although the interface was nicer than Virtual PC’s, it still disappointed. No, no thanks.

I’ll let Parallels talk about how fast their virtualization is all they want. I’ll believe it when I see it encode video and run the latest versions of Photoshop and Visual Studio at near the full speed of the CPU. Meanwhile, I’ve had enough of emulation/virtualization. It may be good for servers, as VMWare is proving with their Enterprise suite of products, but it’s not good when one’s computing needs involve lots of high-availability graphics, memory and processing power.

It seems like I’m hopelessly caught between Scylla and Charybdis, not knowing where to turn, part of me wanting Mac OS and part of me needing Windows. What to do? Nothing to do but to hold off for now, and hope that either Apple or Windows get their act together for people like me.