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Hands on with Messages 6.1 beta

17 February 2012 2,289 views 2 Comments

A great big leap forward, a few steps back and some fairly obvious moves yet to come. Apple’s iChat replacement is clearly a work in progress and it’s long on promise — here’s a look at what works and some things that might be coming in the finished product.

Messages 6.1 beta is now available — it’s a first taste of the changes coming in OS X Mountain Lion, which is expected to arrive in full by the end of the Summer. But be warned, installing this app replaces, as in gone, iChat.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like about Messages 6.1 beta:

• Send unlimited iMessages to any Mac, iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch
• Start an iMessage conversation on your Mac and continue it on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch
• Send photos, videos, attachments, contacts, locations, and more
• Launch a FaceTime video call and bring the conversation face-to-face
• Messages supports iMessage, AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk, and Jabber accounts

When setting up Messages, adding email accounts that track back to the app, you can add an iCloud or third-party address, such as Gmail, but they won’t work in Messages until you’ve added them Mail, Contacts and Calendars in System Preferences.

This in turn will generate an email (image) to the account which must be confirmed via browser click.

Again, when you install Messages, iChat gets removed and there are plenty of hints that Messages is based at least in part on Apple’s IM client of the noughties. For example, the Video Preview and Preferences windows bear a striking resemblance to iChat.

Messages Buddy List has also been cribbed and, in the current context, is just wrong.

One plus one equals one…

There’s a disconnect vis-a-vis how video chat works. If the person you’re calling is on AIM, the session stays within Messages. Barring that, you get kicked out to FaceTime, which adds an inelegant level of complexity.

It would seem intuitive that FaceTime and Messages will merge into a single app or at least into a functionally coherent whole that allows simultaneous chat and video conferencing.

Another thing that’s sort of “in there,” but doesn’t altogether work is Video Effects a la Photo Booth. In Message’s Video menu, there’s an option to Show Video Effects, which can be used when the video chat is an AIM session within Messages.

However, when AIM isn’t available, you get kicked out to FaceTime and the person you’re videoing with doesn’t see the effect (image).

On a side note, MacRumors states that when Mountain Lion ships it will be exclusive to the new OS — no looking back, boys and girls.

File transfers, link sharing

See also: Can my Mac run OS X Mountain Lion?

A nifty feature that’s functional is the availability of previews for shared links (shown above). Click the carrot to the right of a shared link and a full + clickable preview of the page will pop up.

Additionally, I could zoom and scroll a map embedded in a page shared with me using multitouch gestures — sweet.

Also, I tried a few file transfers, specifically two separate photos and a .dmg file, all of which moved across the inter webs quickly. And, by clicking the New Message button, you can transfer files to multiple people in a single go, which is nice.

For image files, it’s possible to interactively preview, as well.

Naturally, with the iPhone and iPad, I couldn’t save the .dmg file. However, one expects that Apple will build out the ability to move, save, transfer, etc. certain into Messages/FaceTime. Seriously, why shouldn’t we be able to share an mp3 or video file instantly and seamlessly from Mac to iPhone or iPad to Mac?

It just makes sense as DropBox is at best a feature, not a stand alone service.

It’s a [partial] wrap

As is Messages is far from complete. Yet, it’s not hard to imagine groups of friends or colleagues taking to it like fish to water — there’s a huge amount of potential and many features are more than enough.

It will be very interesting to watch how Apple pulls it altogether as Mountain Lion’s late Summer ship date draws near…

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