The Overwhelming Onslaught Of iMessages

By Greg Kumparak , written on February 16, 2012

From The News Desk

This morning, Apple did something we've all been hoping they would do for a while: they added iMessage support to OS X.

Here we are, just half a day later, and iMessage is driving. me. absolutely. crazy.

It started at 7:30 a.m.


It was an iMessage. It read, simply, "I'M USING iMESSAGE ON THE DESKTOP! FEAR ME."

A bit confused (I hadn't been out of bed to see the news), I shrugged it off and went back to sleep. Or, at least, I tried to.

By 8 A.M, I'd received a dozen more. Word of the new Messages app was spreading, and some of my geekier friends were firing it up. Trying to eke just five more minutes of sleep out of the clock, I flipped the switch to disable iMessage on my phone and rolled over.

That's when I heard it, two rooms away: DING! .....DING! My iPad was still getting all of the iMessages, singing blithely with the arrival of each. "Screw it," I thought. "Time to get up."

The first thing I did, of course, was install Messages. This has been my life since:

You see, bringing iMessage support to OS X introduces a few interesting side effects:

1) When you send someone an iMessage from your phone, you naturally follow the same etiquette you would while texting. If it's particularly early (or particularly late), you think twice before sending a text.

When sending someone a message from a computer, however, we're used to a different etiquette. If you can instant message someone (on say, AIM, or Facebook), it's generally because they're intentionally online. With iMessage, you're always online (unless you go out of your way to not be.) How were my friends to know they were blasting away at my bedside (outside of the fact that it was 7:30 in the friggin' morning)?

2) Every iMessage goes to every device on which you have iMessage enabled, and every single one will buzz or vibrate. Actively using Messages on your laptop? Your iPhone will still ding, every time. That iPad sitting out in the living room? Ding!

This quirk has been a point of discussion for some time now, but it's magnified exponentially by iMessages being a part of OS X. Rather than tapping away on a not-so-ergonomic glass display, we've got the comfort of a full keyboard. Rather than having to pull out your phone or completely switch applications, we've got an inlet to iMessage constantly lurking around somewhere on our screen. The number of iMessages being sent is going to sky rocket. DING! DING! DING!

Fortunately, these are matters Apple could — at least, in theory — fix.

For the first hurdle, Apple could allow the user to toggle iMessage on any device from any other device tied to that same account. When my iPad continued to buzz away a few rooms away, there's no reason I shouldn't have been able to disable iMessage everywhere with the flip of one or two switches.

For the second, iMessage needs to at least try to figure out which terminal I'm actively using, be it my laptop, iPhone, or iPad. This has always been an issue with instant messaging services that allow simultaneous sign-ons, but Apple has one hugely important advantage: complete control over the service and every platform it runs on.

iOS knows when I've read an iMessage, and when I've unlocked the screen. OS X knows if I've got Messages running, and if I've moved the mouse cursor recently (and thus likely haven't walked away from my laptop). When it's clear that I'm at one terminal, the others shouldn't be buzzing away. They should, of course, continue syncing the messages — but if I've just responded to something on OS X, my iPhone and iPad ought to stop screaming. Once it becomes even the slightest bit unclear where I am (if, say, my portables don't send any read receipts back to the server and I've suddenly stopped responding on OS X), sure — let'em sing.

Too hacky? Fine. Give me a button that lets me say "I'm on this device. Silence iMessage everywhere else" that automatically disables itself once I've sent an iMessage from another device.

iMessage is fun, and it's incredibly useful — but it's time for it to get smart.

[Image Credit: Seeking Rescue via Shutterstock]