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Summary:

One of the new features of OS X Mountain Lion, coming this summer, is Messages for Mac, which replaces iChat. Apple’s iMessage service is available as a beta version to download for use with OS X Lion today. Here are our first impressions.

messages-chat

One of the new features of OS X Mountain Lion, coming this summer, is Messages for Mac. Messages replaces iChat and brings Apple’s iMessage service, first introduced with iOS 5 on iPhone and iPad, to the desktop. A beta version is available to download for use with OS X Lion today, and the final version should be made available this summer when Mountain Lion is released. I had a chance to take Messages for a spin, and there are some nice improvements to the iChat app.

On the surface, the functionality is roughly the same as previous versions of iChat. It supports text instant messaging with one person or in a group “conference room” and video chat with up to three other people. You can still enter multiple accounts from different services like AIM, Google Talk and other Jabber-based accounts. What’s new is that you can now connect your Mac to the same iMessage account that you use on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. When setting up an iMessage account, you can choose to use your email address, and you can optionally attach your phone number during setup.

Messages walks you through a quick setup when first launched and reveals a somewhat familiar window layout, with conversations listed on the left and the chat pane on the right. The “Buddies” window is still available to show which of your friends are online and available to chat. One thing that might look different is a Mail-like address bar labeled “To:” at the top of a new conversation, where you can just start typing the name of the recipient. It will find all the matches in your address book and present the various choices of phone numbers, email addresses and accounts associated with different chat services for that name. This is particularly important when using the iMessage service, where email might be associated with the Mac and the phone number might be associated with an iPhone.

The iMessage service supports “delivered” notifications just like on iOS, and optional “read” notifications to be returned to the sender after you’ve viewed their message. These settings are controlled in the app preferences, where you will also find general preferences, account setup, message settings, alert styles and audio/video settings.

When you launch a video chat with someone using Facetime, it actually launches the Facetime application on your Mac. AIM video chat is still available in the Messages application itself.

When I tried Messages out this morning, replies to an iMessage chat showed up in Messages on my Mac, but also appeared as notifications on my iPhone sitting next to me on the desk. I could switch back and forth between the two devices and continue the conversation on either one. The entire conversation was visible on both my Mac and my iPhone and the entire experience was completely seamless.

Conclusions

The importance of this seamless transition between devices for me is the ability to keep the context of the entire conversation in front of me, no matter where I chose to pick up and continue with my next reply. I might get some iMessage “texts” on my iPhone, but when I get back to the office, I can open my laptop and continue right where I left off.

It happens fairly often that clients (or my wife and kids) will text me about something that I need to look up on the computer to answer. As long as they are on iMessage, I can see the original question on my Mac and easily reply from there.

One nice detail is that the repeat notifications on the iPhone are muted when you read the message on your Mac. I left my iPhone untouched beside me while chatting with a friend on my Mac. I saw that the repeat notification that I usually get for text messages never showed up. This is great as long as the iMessage service knows that I read the reply in Messages for Mac. When I turned off Messages for Mac, the continued conversation now triggered repeat notifications on my iPhone.

The area that might require a little more polishing is that, when the message is unread on the Mac, it still appears to mute the repeat notification on the phone. If you left your Mac running unattended, you might not get repeat notifications of new messages on your iPhone. Obviously, this feature doesn’t affect everyone as some people might disable repeat notifications, but it does point out the necessity of being careful about working with betas and figuring out how things work, and what might change over time as Apple refines the Messages application.

Overall, I am pretty positive about the new features. I think Messages for Mac will actually be a big help in my professional and personal life and will make text/IM even more convenient. As for the big picture, I think the overall theme of Mountain Lion (including this beta of Messages for Mac on Lion) is not so much that iOS features and apps are coming to the Mac, but that the apps will work across both iOS and Mac in a completely seamless experience.

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  1. It annoys me how if I send messages, then close the Messages window, re-open it, It clears the history. I want it to be like on my iPhone, show the recent messages so I can easily reply.

    1. Same problem here. Stupid.

    2. no, it shouldn’t. it will keep them until you delete them, not automatically clear them.

  2. Still, not very useful because of the walled garden approach. Right now I can chat on my Windows Phone with people on Facebook or Messenger, on the desktop client or on the web client on any platform. If the contacts aren’t online then it uses SMS seamlessly.

    1. So you don’t use an iPhone and you are telling us iPhone users that it’s not useful… And using a WP7 you shouldn’t be throwing any “walled garden” stones. MS followed Apple on that approach.

    2. With the mac version you can add Facebook accounts using the jabber protocol https://www.facebook.com/sitetour/chat.php its fairly seamless and works great, this whole walled garden approach B*S is totally not valid its apples ecosystem so why wouldn’t they want people to stay in it, frankly you can keep your Windows UI, jealousy is a bitch.

  3. One thing I discovered is iMessage will automatically save all Chat transcripts with no way to turn that off.

  4. I can’t see where you can add your phone number to your Messages account on OSX…you sure it can be done?

    1. It asked if I wanted to link my phone number when I first set it up. I don’t see a way to do it after the fact. You might try removing the preferences files and things under ~/Library/Application\ Support/ to see if that will put you back into the guided setup again. Just move them to a temporary folder on your desktop or something in case you want to restore them later.

      1. Sorry I don’t see these pref files and in application support I just see 3 files that start with chat.db. Having the same issue. Messages from phone not going to mac.

      2. Sorry, not seeing these files. In application support, just seeing 3 files that start with chat.db. not finding preference files at all. Where should I look for them please? Same issue. phone not sending to mac

    2. Daniel Mcfarlane Vox Thursday, February 16, 2012

      no you can’t this is misinformation on the article it works the same as the iPad version of iMessage you can send to mobile numbers that use the protocol but not the other way around you need to link email addresses to receive for the time being, i imagine this being a beta version it will be in the pipeline.

  5. where do you put in your phone number when you download the app? I didn’t see an option for that and mine isn’t syncing with my iPhone for iMessage / Messages

    1. Same problem.

  6. @ Joe Wood,
    Well I don’t use Facebook or Messenger so this is a welcome thing, too bad the link in the article doesn’t work

    1. The link is working now.

  7. I noticed that deleting single line “texts” on the phone does not delete them from the computer conversation and the computer conversation does not allow you to delete single line or clear the entire conversation. clearing the entire conversation on the phone still left me with a complete conversation on the computer even after closing the window and quitting the app. definitely still a beta, picture transfer wasn’t the best, if caused problems with ALL my texts and crashed messages on my phone… they have certainly made steps in the right direction though.

  8. Yeah I can not add my phone number either, so people recieve my messages in two different threads. One from my iPhone, and another thread from my computer… everyone else has the same issue? If so I imagine it will be fixed later on?
    Thanks

    1. I hope so because this is a terrible implementation as it stands. I want all my messages from the same person regardless of underlying tech method to be in the same thread.

  9. when I message my contacts with my iPhone, and then switch to my messages.app on my computer, my contacts get my messages in two different threads. (one from my iPhone and the other from the computer) I can’t seem to put my phone number into the application on my computer. Is this just a fault due to the betta?

  10. when I message my contacts with my iPhone, and then switch to my messages.app on my computer, my contacts get my messages in two different threads. (one from my iPhone and the other from the computer) I can’t seem to put my phone number into the application on my computer. Is this just a fault due to the betta?

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