The US Patent Office has approved an Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) patent for what looks like an instant messenger application for the iPhone, with some improvements over its SMS feature, such as a word predicter which suggests more words. This appears to be a different than the one reported in April. That’s all well and good — a native IM application is something that a lot of people began clamouring for once the iPhone was released, and it would be a nice feature to introduce with the next version of the iPhone. Apple Insider has some good details on the patent — and it’s important to remember that it’s just a patent and a lot of patents don’t lead to applications. With Apple opening the iPhone to third parties it’s a sure bet that the current big IM companies will be putting their chat programs on the iPhone, so any new service would have to compete with MSN and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) IM. In fact, Information Week points out that at the SDK announcement Apple demonstrated with AOL (NYSE: TWX) IM, and raises issues as to whether carriers would want people sending instant messages instead of the more profitable SMS (although I don’t think Apple cares).
Even if Apple is planning a native IM client for the iPhone, some of the commentary has gone a bit overboard. Tim Leberecht at CNet suggests that Apple might be the first mover in the “elegant, seamless, cross-platform, and cross-media IM solution” market, which of course depends on how elegant and seamless you think current cross-platform IM solutions are. He then goes on to say that “CNBC analyst Jim Cramer thinks that an iPhone IM application is going to be to instant messaging what the iPod was to the Walkman” which is a misquote, since Cramer was talking about PC-based iChat. Look, if Apple releases a native IM client it’s sure to be good, but since the patent is for a touch-screen phone it’s unlikely to affect anyone except iPhone owners, and even that group is likely to include people looking at other IM solutions.