June 7, 2011

∴ iCloud Feature: iMessage

This one's easy. It's a text messaging app, but with an important difference from the typical SMS app: it doesn't use your wireless carrier's texting allowance.

Most smartphone users learn something in common after the first month of use: their new smartphone is great for text messaging, but text messaging isn't a data service like email and web browsing. No, it uses the carrier's network in a different way, one that the carrier charges separately for, one that just racked up a huge overage charge. It's in month two that many smartphone owners add a texting package to their account.

Not anymore. iMessage lets you exchange text messages, photos, contacts and bookmarks via an SMS-like app, using WiFi or 3G data networking. That means messages sent and received with iMessage don't count against your carrier's text message allowance. Many iPhone users already beat that allowance by using the Textie app. Now that capability is built into iOS 5.

One downside of the iMessage app is that it only functions between iOS devices. An iPhone user can only exchange iMessage traffic with another iPhone or iPad user. An upside is that iPads will now have text messaging capability.

Blackberry users have had this capability for a long time. It's called Blackberry Messenger, or BBM. With iMessage, Apple is making an obvious play for Blackberry holdouts who demand that direct-device service.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of iMessage is that the carriers, AT&T and Verizon, found out about it at the same time as the rest of us.