For the past few days, I’ve been using the iMessages beta for OS X, and I have to say it is great. Not only is it awesome that I don’t have to turn to my phone every time it buzzes, but I also get to type faster on a real keyboard. This combined with all of the other features of Mountain Lion adds up to a net-positive for me.
Of course, there are always improvements to be made, and this particular technology is no exception. iMessages needs to be improved beyond its current state, and while we’re at it, we should lump in FaceTime. That would make an interesting improvement, wouldn’t it?
Let’s get some background covered first. At WWDC in 2010, Steve Jobs debuted FaceTime, and promised that the FaceTime team would be working to make the technology an open standard. That means that other platforms like Android and Windows Phone could implement FaceTime, allowing users to have video chats across devices and platforms. Yes! Bright new future!
Of course, reports soon came out of Apple that the FaceTime team was hearing about it for the first time along with everyone else at the event. Which is bad, because that means it is more along the lines of “Steve Jobs just came up with this idea, and is sharing it on stage”-plan than a “we are actively working to get this done”-plan. (Of course, since then progress could have picked up and the FaceTime team could be hard at work opening it up. Your guess is as good as mine.)
Now let’s turn our attention to iMessages. Unlike FaceTime, Apple never promised to make iMessage an open platform, and there’s no reason to expect it will ever become one. However, I’m not one to rest on my laurels and go with pure facts, so indulge me for a moment.
If Apple was to take iMessages and FaceTime and combine them into an open standard that could be used across platforms, it would be a huge win for everyone. Both Android and Windows Phone would gain from this, with Google and Microsoft, being able to tap into Apple’s massive user base means that Apple has two fewer features to tout.
The most important group of people to gain from this are the users. Think about this. Currently, if you want to use the features of iMessages, you need to have an iPhone and have friends with iPhones; or have a Blackberry and have friends that use a Blackberry. However, if it became an open standard, it wouldn’t matter what phone it was on, as everyone could speak to each other. Real-time, free-of-charge.
Why the need for both to become one standard? Well, think of the combination as the open communication standard. Combined, FaceTime and iMessages (likely rebranded for cross-platform use), would replace phone calls, SMS, all of the third-party services and at the same time replace all of the associated bills that come along with those services.
The only party* that would be seriously hurt with this change are the telecom carriers. They would be forced to either adopt the standard and help out (and figure out a way to monetize it), or they would be stuck with SMS and older phone technologies, both of which would soon die off. However, as hard as it would be for the CEO’s of AT&T and Verizon to deal with, they’re in a position that is incredibly hard to pity, so why try?
The fact that the carriers would be hurt is also the reason why Apple would want to do this. While Apple would lose the ability to tout iMessages over Windows Phone and Android, they would be in a stronger position overall. With a stronger alternative communications network, the carriers are faced with a great reduction in power.
Why is this a plus for Apple? Currently, the carriers stand between Apple and customers as a cumbersome third-party. With the reduction in power, Apple (and Google, Microsoft, etc.) would all be freer to innovate and to sell phones on their own terms.
Often such a bright future is cast aside as being far-fetched, but in this case it isn’t so crazy. Imagine using a communications platform that was distributed across companies, that replaced all of the older communications technologies with real-time, 21st century technology. Sure, the details of how it would all work across platforms would need to be ironed out, but I think this is something we should all be able to get behind.
Not to mention the fact that with more engineers on the project, we might actually be able to solve Greg’s problem on a timely basis.
*RIM would also likely be hurt by this, but relative to their current state of hurting, it would be minimal.
[Image: Global Communications Ans Earth via Shutterstock]