What Is iMessage and How Do I Use It?

There’s been a lot of excitement over the recent iOS 5 announcements. A new notifications center, a promising new Reminder app and Wifi Sync are just a few of the awesome features that we can look forward to this fall.

One feature that I’ve been getting a lot of questions about is iMessage. What is it? Will there be two messaging apps now or will it be integrated into the current messaging system? If you’re wondering about the answers to these questions, read on.

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Doesn’t the iPhone Already Have a Messaging App?

The first question that needs to be answered is “What is iMessage?” There’s already a messaging app on the iPhone that handles both SMS and MMS messages. What else do we need?

The answer is one that iPod Touch and iPad owners can be excited about. The general idea is that there are tons of iOS users out there not using a 3G enabled device. iPods and some iPads only utilize Wifi for data. What this has meant up to this point is that only iPhone users get the messaging app and these other users get left out.

Apple wanted to create a way for all iOS users, regardless of device (as long as it runs iOS 5), to be able to quickly message each other in a free and simple way. The parallels to BBM are clear and unavoidable. You have to be “in the club” to utilize it but as we’ll see, you won’t really have to worry so much about who does and doesn’t have it.



What Does It Do?

The features here are pretty straightforward. You can send unlimited free text messages from any iOS device to any iOS device over Wifi or 3G. Technically, you can also send pictures, movies, etc. without being charged but keep in mind that if you are using 3G some data fees may apply (this pretty much depends on your data contract).

All of these messages have associated “receipts” which is pretty much a little line of text with the time and/or date for the message. Unlike with normal SMS messages, iMessage shows you when your party is typing a reply.

Another great feature here is group messaging. You can invite several people to participate in a single conversation and see all the replies in a threaded conversation. This will really save you some back and forth time, assuming all your friends have iPhones.

So This Is a New App?

Many iPhone users are concerned that this will make their lives complicated. Are there two messaging apps now? How will we know if a friend does or doesn’t have iMessage?

Fortunately, it seems that the iOS team did a solid job of integrating this new messaging system seamlessly into the old one. So there’s still only one messaging app, and it looks and works a lot like your old one!

When you’re in the iMessage app, you’ll create a new message just like you do now, only there will be little icons and some color differences to indicate who does and doesn’t have iMessage. You can still message anyone who doesn’t have iMessage, it will just use your carrier’s SMS system instead and won’t give you access to iMessage-only features like group messaging.

Does It Work with iChat?

For those of you who aren’t iChat users, and that’s probably most of you, I apologize for bringing this up again but I’m truly baffled as to what’s going on with iChat lately. Here we have an Internet-powered messaging app that features both text and media that looks like iChat, acts like iChat, heck even sounds like iChat, and yet as far as I can tell, no Lion iChat integration is planned.

This problem is compounded by FaceTime, a face-to-face video conferencing app that exists on both Mac and iPhone. Between iMessage and FaceTime, Apple has chopped up the features of iChat and spread them across two separate apps, neither of which can successfully integrate with iChat.

Back in the day, a lot of the appeal of iChat was that it was compatible with the AIM network, which was where all the IM users were at the time. I can see why Apple would want to start backing away from that in favor of their own initiatives, but why not at least offer integration with the messaging app that some of us have been using daily for the past several years?


They sure look like they can talk to each other!

Apple users now have an awkward trio of iChat, FaceTime and iMessage to handle communication that could’ve easily been thrown into one cross-platform “iChat” application for iOS and OS X. As it currently stands, it looks a lot like Apple is just going to abandon iChat altogether.

Once again, this seems to be a very personal rant as I haven’t talked to a single other person who really gives a rip about iChat. Most of the Mac users I know have never even opened the app. Still, I’ll bet that lots of users will wish there was a way to continue their iMessage conversations on a Mac.


To sum up, iMessage is a new way for everyone with a device running iOS 5 to communicate freely through simple text and multimedia. It’s tightly integrated into the current messaging system so there’s little to no learning curve and you don’t have to worry about confusing the two.

Leave a message below and let us know what you think of iMessage. Is it something you’ll use?