Wednesday, November 30, 2011

iMessage use on an AT&T iPhone without a SIM card (iPod Touch mode)

iMessage is a very intriguing product. It's available as part of iOS 5 for iPod Touch, iPad and iPhone 3Gs, 4 or 4S.

On non-phone iOS devices iMessage provides non-SMS (iMessage) texting services to other iMessage users over either WiFi or, if supported, 3G services. That's like, but WhatsApp only works on a iPhone with an active voice service!

On iPhones iMessage has two modes.

In standard mode it supports SMS/MMS messaging as well as iMessage texting. iMessaging is the default when it's supported by the receiving device; you can see what will be used before you compose a message.

In an optional mode you can disable SMS/MMS messaging and go purely iMessage. You may want to do this, for example, if you choose not to pay for AT&T's extortionary "unlimited" plans. You will still receive SMS messages (20 cents each, including spam text), but at least you won't send any. (You can tell AT&T to turn off all but 'administrative texting' if you want to avoid spam SMS and spam SMS fees.)

In a world where SMS fees exceed AT&T's mandatory minimal $15/month 200MB/mo data plans, iMessage is subversive [1]. For our family, discontinuing our $30 month texting plan and using a combination of iMessage, Facebook Messenger and Google Voice/Text more than pays for my son's data plan and old 3GS.

Siri is nice (more on that in Gordon's Notes, soon), but iMessage is the biggest thing in iOS 5. I would love to know what AT&T thinks of it, and whether those thoughts are printable in a family blog.

Alas, not everything is quite perfect in iMessage and iOS 5.01. Apple's Discussion groups have many complaints about "waiting for activation". For example:

iMessage waiting for activation: Apple Support Communities

... To update on my iPhone-off contract, even though it says iMessage is waiting for activation, I can still iMessage my friend in Australia (and I am in the USA) So I don't know how it's working, but it's working great!   Also, another one of my USA friends has an iPod touch with iMessage. It is working flawlessly..

We had no trouble at all with 3 iPhones with functional SIMs. In an SIM-free iPhone 4 in use as an iPod Touch, however, we got stuck at "waiting for activation".

The first time I used the device I think it sent messages, despite the notice. The next day, however, it could not send. I tried various tricks to no avail, including:

  • reboot phone
  • remove and restore my son's iCloud credentials and account.
  • play with location and time zone settings
  • create a contact card in iCloud with his migrated iCloud ID ( and specify that in iMessage

Nothing worked. A day later, however, his phone could again send and receive messages -- despite showing "waiting for activation".

I don't know how long it will keep working. Apple doesn't truly support use of a SIM-less iPhone as an iPod Touch, which further reduces the (suprisingly) low value of a used iPhone. I'm somewhat optimistic, however, that the current flaky behavior is a bug or a reflection of overloaded systems. I'll update this post as I learn more.

[1] If Apple integrates it with iChat on OS X, and provides a Windows 7 client ... hmm.

See also:


Anonymous said...

It is my understanding the carriers found out about iMessage at the same time we, the consumers, did. I am sure they hate it. Recently in Mexico on the iPad I could iMessage with my son on his iPod and a free text message app he has on there. Verizon said if I used iMessage with message on my iPhone it would be a text messages charge as using their service. This did not make sense to me, but I didn't want to risk being charged either. I love iMessage and would love to cancel the $30 family text message charge too.

Anonymous said...

I suspect Verizon can't track texts sent via iMessage, so doubt they can bill you unless Apple gives them transaction reports.

I haven't read any reports of carrier responses to iMessage. I'm curious.

Julie Baber said...

My husband and I are being billed for imessages by AT&T. We got iphone 4s's in December, and our first bill had us being charged for imessages, as if they were text messages (showing up in my AT&T bill under text messages, counting towards my 200 messages, and then being billed additionally at $.10). Those were in fact imessages, because they are blue (NOT green) and even say imessage.We have all of our imessage settings set correctly, and we are running on OS 5 or higher. However in 6 calls to AT&T and 3 cases being opened about this problem, their only conclusion all three times was I must be wrong or colorblind and illiterate, that there was no way they could be imessages. My husband and I are on the same account, and they could see we both have iphone 4s's and they could see that we both were getting charged for texting each other, but they just couldn't comprehend that this could be happenning with imessages. They even tried contacting apple support with no luck. I switched my settings to not send as a text message when imessages don't go through, and it seems, fingers crossed, that this is working.

This was incredibly frustrating, and I'd like info from anyone about how they were able to convince AT&T that this was a genuine problem they were having, and what the solution may be. I have a feeling that this problem is not over, so I would love that information if anyone has it.

JGF said...

I haven't seen that Julie, but I have seen messages that showed iMessage switch to SMS at the last minute. I bet that happens a lot at some locations.

JGF said...

By "last minute" I meant last second -- in fact, after I'd sent the message I saw it flip from iMessage to Message/SMS.