November 6, 2011

More Thoughts on Messaging

So my original impression of iMessage turned out to be incorrect – kind of.  If you have an iPhone, you know by now that iMessage and the SMS app are in fact, built in.  That’s good.  My reaction was based on the fact that I only have an iPad.  So here are some more thoughts and additional notions regarding SMS going away (hopefully sooner than later) for various reasons.

Now that I realize that iMessage is integrated into the iPhone, they are certainly on to something.  The problem is, however, that there are still multiple apps for multiple modes of communication and it would be wise of Apple to combine iChat, FaceTime and iMessage/Messages.  A single interface to reach out and contact someone is key.

The iMessage concept (and FaceTime too) is baked into the contact, however, there are distinct problems here with both ubiquity and platform approach.  Take for example the contact:  I have lots of contacts, yet the only way I know if they have an iDevice is to attempt to iSomething them – not a good approach.  Second, when I call up a contact that happens to have FaceTime (only because I know for a fact they have it, not because the contact gave me any indication otherwise which is also fail), guess what happens if that person is unavailable?  It just keeps ringing!  There is no ‘this person is not available’ or busy signal, just ring and ring and ring.  Third – if you are going to put out an SMS killer (as well as integrate excellent other communication modes like video chat and IM), then you have to go all the way:  you HAVE to assume that not EVERYONE on the planet has (or wants or can afford) an iDevice.  Much to my own personal dismay, FaceTime and iMessage aren’t platform agnostic – iThing only.  That’s insanely short sighted of Apple.  I get the idea – closed systems, controlled systems, known quantities and competitive advantage – but it is that absence of ubiquity that will prevent iMessage and FaceTime from really owning this market.  Enter the competition:

Over on the other side, the fun happy side as I like to call it, is Windows Phone.  First, let’s dispense with my general absence of commentary of all things Android.  One sentence, heck one word can describe Android – yuck.  Who in their right mind would choose that platform!?  Anyways, over on the fun happy side are a series of interesting developments that are starting to gain traction and might just succeed if the stars line up and they keep their eye on the ball.

First up is a neat little app I’ve been tinkering with call Kik Messenger.  Here’s a tool that is very much similar to the iMessage service but has one serious advantage – multi-platform.  Not only does it do everything that iMessage can do and then some, but it is multi-platform.  You can use it on Windows Phone, Apple, Android (ewe) and, even BlackBerry (people still use that thing?)  Being multi-platform immediately makes its potential much higher.  Currently, it has a few disadvantages:  1. It requires sign on.  iMessage is baked into the phone – so should Kik.  The ‘sign on’ should be the phone number of the device.  I don’t see Kik being available on tablets but if they do come to tablets, they could easily implement sign on things for those folks – similar to my using of my email address in iMessage on iPad.  Second – and this cannot be stressed enough – the app MUST integrate more closely, er, completely with the contact experience.  If I go to send a message to someone, it should check to see if I’m on Kik and send it that way instead…similar to how FaceBook and Windows Live integration are starting to come together on Windows Phone.  Messaging should not EVER be an app.  Third – and I think they will get there soonish – video.  If Kik wants to beat iMessage, Kik needs to integrate video calling right there in the app.  So, integrate with contact experience, add video and ditch the sign on – boom, instant amazingness.

There is another app that could that is coming around.  It’s called Tango and it’s similar in ubiquity but is dedicated to the video experience.  It is about to become the first app (as of tomorrow I hear) to enable video calling on Windows Phone 7 – besting even Microsoft’s recent Skype purchase (more on that in a second).  Instantly, we’ve got ourselves a ballgame because Tango is already available on PC/iPhone/Android and now WP7.  Who cares about Blackberry but they are certainly missing a piece in the native Mac app.  Do that little nugget and its got FaceTime beaten IF it can overcome the same issues as Kik: integrate with contact experience completely, get rid of logging in from devices and in this guy’s case, integrate text based messaging.

I realize integrating as with the contacts concept as tightly as iMessage is going to be hard.  Apple loves to go out of its way to make anything useful be impossible in case they think it up first (or not).  Android is pretty easy, one can do just about anything they want with it, which is odd because no one has yet to make it useful.  Microsoft is right there at the happy middle ground.  There are tight integration points that are available and continue to mature but it still has a ways to go but it is going much faster than Apple ever did.  I do have to give Microsoft some SERIOUS props here.  Skype is coming for Windows Phone 7.  It is already available for iOS and Android (as well as Mac/PC).  But it will be some time before you can get Skype on WP7 and in the interim, MSFT could very easily have told Tango to take a hike, just like what Apple does all the time – but you know what?  They didn’t.  Not only that, Microsoft actually HELPED Tango with their code to make sure it is amazing, hardware accelerated and takes advantage of all those nifty new Mango features (like a front facing camera if you’ve got the goods) to do what it does.  Very impressive.

Currently, messaging and communications is in a disruptive period.  This is excellent for the end users because we won’t have to rely on the nasty overpriced SMS for much longer (hopefully).  What SMS has going for it now (universal availability and non-reliance on the data network) won’t be around for long and the carriers will lose out on another of their cash cows.  Next they’ll figure out a way to charge you for getting a bill you can actually read.  In the interim, those startups out there need to keep innovating and being multi-platform, easy to use and integrate as tightly as humanly possible with the contact experience and they’ll not only unseat Apple and their shortsightedness, they may even unseat a technology that came around in the early 90s!

PS – Hey Kik – if you read this, do me a solid – let me be logged into more than one device at a time without logging me out of the other one. KThanksBai