Why iMessage at the moment isn’t much more useful than SMS

I’ve been using iMessage less than I’d thought I would be.  No, I haven’t stopped, or slowed down texting on my phone.  No, instead I assumed that I would be using the new Message app on my iPad much more often.  After all, the ability for all my devices to simultaneously receive iMessages across all my devices and sync with one another has to make it more useful.  Perhaps even enough to replace most instant messaging programs.  Did iMessage live up to this cross device compatibility?  Not so much.  Read on to find out why.

First there are some gotchas to be aware.  These are things you should know even before you get to the point of why it doesn’t really work as advertised for us multi iOS devices users.

Set-Up
First things first.  iMessage isn’t enabled by default on your newly upgraded iOS devices.   You enable this by heading to your Settings application and go to the message section.  Make sure that “iMessage” is turned on.  For non iPhones, you’ll need to enter an email address to associate with it, if you haven’t already done this with iCloud.  You can enable a few other things while your here such as allowing “read receipts”, which allow the other person not only to know when their message is delivered to your device, but also when you get around to reading it.  On the iPhone, you also have the option of Sending as SMS (for when you don’t have 3G or WiFi available) as well as a bunch of standard SMS options toward the bottom.  But the big gotcha is the section labeled “Received At”.

Received At/Caller ID
In order for all of your devices even to have a chance of acting like Apple says it should, you first have to tweak your “Caller ID”.  This is kinda hidden in the “received at” section, and in fact doesn’t even show up at first.  This field only shows up unless you’ve added more than 1 option of where people can message you.  On your iPhone, this will default to your phone number.  On your other devices it will default to the first email address you entered, or whatever is associated with iCloud.

But here’s where the “catch” is for syncing across your iOS devices.  On each device, all your caller ID, your primary ID, must be the same.  This would be great if all your devices defaulted to your iCloud address or something, but with each device working in its own way, it’s very often typical that nothing is syncing up.  So to even have a chance of it working like you’d expect, you must add the same email address to all your devices, and then set that as your Default ID on all iOS devices.

The Catch…
And here’s when it actually breaks down in terms of usefulness (in terms of “iMessage”)… In order for it to show up on all your devices, your friends, family, and assorted contacts have to send an iMessage to this Default ID.  Not your phone number.  How many people do you text on your phone and use their email address?  My guess? None.  SO any conversation you start will show up, by default as coming from your default iMessage account, not your phone number.  If they reply to that message you are ok and it syncs.  If they message you first and use your phone number (like a normal person), iMessage doesn’t understand this link and only sends it to your iPhone.

Theres another glitch… remember when you were setting up iMessage and got to choose “Send as SMS” option?  If you are sending from that required default iOS wide email address that doesn’t work.  iMessage can’t figure out that even though you are on your iPhone to send something as a text message when you run out of 3G or wi-fi range due to you not sending from a phone number.  It can’t hash together phone numbers and email address.  It treats all those linked addresses as separate accounts with their own rules and regulations they have to follow.

How can Apple fix this?
This seems like something that Apple should be able to fix without too much difficulty in an update.  iMessage already understands that you can have multiple IDs that all link together in your devices.  As far as I can figure they need to alter iMessage 2 small ways.  iMessage already can figure out if the person on the other side supports the iMessage protocol.  If you tweak this for it to recognize whatever default ID the user has set, this could then change whom you are sending your message to.  No need for you to make sure you have the right email address in your address book or making sure you are sending to a person’s email instead of their phone number.  It would just send to whatever devices they have on hand, instead of just relying on the iPhone since you don’t know when it will work as expected or not.  The other small way would be to change the “default” ID on your iPhone to match your iCloud account, just like it does on all the other iOS devices.  Why the iPhone doesn’t already do this isn’t something I understand.

The Good?
With all the negatives I’ve mentioned, there are a few silver linings for some of us in the way it currently works.   For those with just iPhones, and on a “X amount of SMS messaging” plans…. it definitely will reduce the amount of text messaging your will be sending.  Perhaps for some it would even be enough to drop from an unlimited plan to a limited one (if I wasn’t paranoid I probably would… but I have an unlimited family texting plan).  Also for those people in poor cell areas, but have WiFi, it will help sending out your messages.

TLDR
And that’s the long of it.

  • iMessage at the moment on an iPhone acts pretty close to SMS.  Yes the button is blue and you don’t use any of your SMS allowances, but for the most part it’s just that.  SMS+.
  • On other iOS devices, its nice to get to send messages to other devices, but people on iPhones will look at you funny when hey receive a message from some email address instead of a person.
  • And for us that have multiple iOS devices, you can’t rely that you’ll see all your messages on all your devices like Apple says.  You’ll always be checking your iPhone to catch those message sent to your phone number that won’t show up on your iPad or iPod touch.
Are these things enough to prevent me from using iMessage?  Well, no, since it just defaults to that on my iPhone.  But for using iMessage on any of my other devices, it’s essentially unusable.  At the moment, iMessage is the same thing as SMS to me… just with a pretty blue button.
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About Tasel

Sometimes writer on things technology, Disney, MineCraft, and food.
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