Why Lion Doesn’t Have an iMessage Application (yet)

iMessage

Apple introduced iOS 5 and OS X Lion during the keynote at the Worldwide Developers Conference on June 6, 2011.

One of the features of iOS 5 that was highlighted was iMessage, which promises to provide SMS-like capabilities1 without the extra carrier charges. This type of functionality exists today with various chat apps available for iOS, but the real genius of iMessage is the seamless switching between SMS and iMessage depending on the recipient. This offers the potential to drastically reduce the number of SMS messages sent by iPhone users and, in some cases, enabling iPhone owners to lower the amount they pay their carrier for SMS messages.

Where’s the Mac Version?

As of now, Apple has only announced iMessage for iOS devices; there has been no mention of a Mac client yet.

The reason for this might be very simple… OS X Lion will be available in July, while iOS 5 will not be available until “Fall”. Mac already have iChat to talk to each other. There is no reason for a Mac iMessage client until iOS 5 ships.

What Would a Mac Version Look Like?

Assuming Apple will provide iMessage functionality on the Mac, I see four options:

  1. A new iMessage app in the App Store
  2. An update to the FaceTime app currently available in the App Store with iMessage integration
  3. An OS X Lion update that includes an updated version of iChat with iMessage integration
  4. A new app in the App Store that combines the functionality of iChat, iMessage, and FaceTime in one place

I would like to see option 4, but it’s complicated because it would deprecate two existing apps, iChat and Facetime. iChat is currently delivered as part of OS X. It doesn’t seem likely to me that it would disappear in a point release of OS X. Facetime is currently delivered as a paid app through the App Store1. Getting rid of it after just one year also seems unlikely.

My Prediction

I think we’ll see either a new iMessage app or the addition of iMessage functionality to the existing FaceTime app in the Fall to coincide with the release of iOS 5.

At some point in the future, perhaps with OS X 10.8 or perhaps independent from an OS X release, we’ll see a new app that provides the combined functionality of iChat, iMessage, and FaceTime.