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 WhatsApp.app, 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 . 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:
... 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 (@me.com) 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.
 If Apple integrates it with iChat on OS X, and provides a Windows 7 client ... hmm.
- Gordon's Tech: Giving your old iPhone to your kid: working around AT&T's mandatory data plan 11/3/2011
- Gordon's Notes: AT&T and the mandatory iPhone tax - even out of contract phones must pay 11/3/2011
- Gordon's Tech: AT&T Smart Limits for Wireless is almost worthless 11/4/2011
- Gordon's Tech: Turning an iPhone into an iPod touch - keep the original SIM! 11/28/2011
- Gordon's Tech: Porting a mobile number to Google Voice 11/21/2011
- Gordon's Tech: Testing Facebook Messenger as a texting alternative (4 and 3G) 11/5/2011
- Gordon's Tech: iPhone alternatives to AT&T's texting fees 11/11/2011
- Gordon's Notes: AT&T’s secret Nov 2009 mobile contract change – Elegant Evil 6/2010
- Gordon's Notes: The fear that's driving AT&T's smartphone data plan policies 11/7/2011
- Gordon's Notes: iPhone micro: How SMS pricing is accelerating the smartphone transition 11/24/2011