At WWDC earlier this month, Apple announced iMessages, a platform for iOS users to send messages to each other, free of charge. Users can send text, photos, videos, location information and contact information.
This feature is built-in to the existing Messages app on the iPhone and works on the iPod touch and iPad as well, since the service works over Wi-Fi, as well as 3G.
Since these messages are sent and received outside of the carrier’s system, messages aren’t counted against users’ cell plans. It also means that Josh and I can text — even though I am in the US and he is in Canada. Which is for lovers.
iMessages is completely integrated into the Messages app on the iPhone in iOS 5. When sending a message to someone’s mobile phone number, iOS 5 attempts to send the message via iMessages first, if it is available for the other user as well. If not, then the text is sent as an SMS on the carrier’s plan.
If sent to or from an email address on the iPhone, the device puts all of the messages in-line, as one conversation. However, since the iPod touch and iPad do not have phone numbers, messages must be sent and received with an email address. This can be confusing when switching back and forth between devices. Hopefully, Apple will allow iCloud to sync all messages across all devices as iOS 5 nears release this fall.
Of course, the elephant in the room is BBM. I think it’s pretty clear that Apple is looking to replicate the popularity of the service, which functionally is very similar to iMessages. Free texting between Blackberry users is cited as a major reason some people stay with the platform, and if iOS offers the same feature, it may act as an attractive reason to switch.