iMessage

Maybe someone can tell me different, but I see the new iMessage feature as completely useless for me.

Apple’s description touts it this way:

If you’re a texter, you’ll love Messages on iPhone. Now it comes with iMessage, a new service that’s even better than texting. Because it’s between you and anyone using an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with iOS 5. And it’s unlimited.* So say as much as you want. And say way more.

The asterisk leads to this:

*Normal carrier data rates may apply. Messages may be sent as SMS when iMessage is unavailable; carrier messaging fees apply.

Image from Apple's iMessage page

Here’s the thing. I already have an unlimited texting plan from AT&T that covers everyone in my family. I don’t, however, have an unlimited data plan, so this looks like something that will eat away at my monthly data allotment while giving me virtually nothing in return.

Other people might find it useful. If most of the texting you do is with other iPhone users, maybe you could get by with a minimal SMS plan from your carrier and rely on iMessage. I can see where maybe a young family or an empty-nester couple could save some money this way.

But if you have kids, especially daughters, with mobile phones, you are almost certainly going to have an unlimited texting plan as a defensive measure. Their friends will have all kinds of different phones, so there’s no way to guarantee that most of the texting is iPhone-to-iPhone. And “unlimited” is the only number big enough to encompass the amount of texting a teenaged girl can do in a month. Once you’re on an unlimited texting plan, you want all your texts going through that pipe instead of the 3G data pipe.

If iMessage offered significant extra features, I might see some value in it. Allowing a conversation to jump between an iPhone and an iPad, is a nice feature, but since I don’t have an iPad, it means nothing to me. And though I have sometimes wondered whether a text got through, delivery receipts aren’t that important to me.

The upshot is that I’ve turned iMessage off. It was fun to see who was blue and who was green in the first couple of days after the iOS 5 upgrade, but now I’m keeping everyone green.

Update 10/16/11
I confess to overstating my case a bit. Text is compact, and it’s likely that a good percentage of messages would be sent over WiFi with cost to my data plan. Still, I’m not sure that iMessage messages, text or photo, are as compact as standard SMS messages, so a direct comparison using message count only may not be apt.

I got a laugh from this reply on Twitter:

@drdrang For the record, I have trouble believing that even a teenage girl’s texting volumes will significantly eat into your data plan.

10:26 PM Sat Oct 15, 2011

I had a hard time believing that, too, but experience shows that a 14-year-old girl can run through 10,000 messages in a month without breaking a sweat. Just you wait. Now it’s true that if those are all text, that’s still only a megabyte or so, but as I said, I don’t know enough about iMessage to know how much metadata is being sent along with the message text or how much bigger iMessage photos are than regular SMS photos.

(Keep in mind, too, that I’m a few years out of date on this. The texting capabilities of 14-year-old girls are evolving at a pace almost too fast for science to track. It may be that the 100,000 texts/month barrier has already been breached.)

My point—possibly not as clear as it would have been had I not written this post late on a Saturday after a couple of Harp Lagers—was not so much that iMessage would add a huge load to my family’s data usage, but that whatever increase in 3G use it creates would come with virtually no benefit to us. Your mileage, as they say, may vary, and I’m not suggesting iMessage is a mistake.

iMessage reminds me of Automator. Many people sing the praises of Automator, while I find it pretty much useless. Too slow and too limited, even when compared to AppleScript, which I’m not fond of, either. But I’m not mounting a campaign to rid the world of Automator—if you’re happy with it, good for you. I won’t try to tell you’re wrong.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see iMessage grow as time goes on. Apple often releases software that starts out with limited features and improves significantly in subsequent editions. If that’s what happens to iMessage, I’ll be happy to switch over to it.


46 Responses to “iMessage”

  1. Grant MacManus says:

    While I have not seen it advertised, iMessage allows for group texting. Rather than sending a text to everyone as an individual, group messages are reply all coup chats in the Messages app.

  2. Jeff says:

    While it seems like iMessage might not add a lot of value for you, I don’t see why the fact it uses data is much of a detractor. Assuming your texts are normal text sized, wouldn’t it take 6500 or so to equal even one megabyte?

    I guess it could be a problem if you were on the 256 meg plan and did a huge volume of texts, or if you’re sending a lot of MMS messages. Also, you should take into account that anytime you’re around Wifi, iMessage would use that instead.

    Now I’m curious if iMessage supports MMS (I assume so) and whether the images sent using it are resized to MMS resolution or if they are higher quality/larger.

  3. Michael Evans says:

    I take the point. iMessage, like Viber or Tango, uses data. But spare a thought for people outside the US who text regularly to foreign countries. An iMessage or a Viber text costs no more whether it is to the home network or to the other side of the world. International texts are not included in text plans, so you pay through the nose for them. I used Viber texts extensively during my recent visit to San Francisco/Cupertino and I would have used iMessage if it had been available. As for the data cost of a text, I’m not sure it is that significant as Jeff.

  4. Dan says:

    Not sure if you’ve considered this, but you’re also reducing your availability to others by being SMS only. If your friend is on their iPad, they can only message you through a third party app—and I know that concept is generally too complicated for the less tech saavy folks we all know. My main reason for going with iMessage so far is that it’s significantly faster than using SMS. And since I only use about 1gb of data per month, the extra bandwidth doesn’t concern me.

  5. Juniper says:

    Uh, why not scrap the unlimited texting? Surely you know the technical details for why it is a scam.

  6. Matt says:

    Well, here in Australia, I don’t have unlimited texts - only an SMS plan that gives me 100/month for $10, then 25c/text after that. So, the advent of iMessage meaning I have totally free (in the grand scheme of things) unlimited messages to at least half my friends is a godsend.

  7. Brad says:

    Another nice thing about iMessage is that it will use Wifi if it is available … there are sometimes where you may have wifi at a local establishment, home, business, etc., but your 3G signal may be low, which would help if you are trying to send and receive messages.

  8. Anthony says:

    It is encrypted. Enough for me.

  9. James says:

    iMessage may have something to do with AT&T dropping all metered SMS/MMS plans and going only unlimited for $20/mo. Now there is a scam. Especially when you factor in that the telcos used previously un-utilized bandwidth for SMS messages. So it costs them next to nothing to provide SMS. MMS may be different.

    As to the amount of bandwidth being used; I had an ASCII copy of the King James Bible that fit on a 1.44MB floppy disk with zip compression. It was about 2.1MB uncompressed. So not counting pictures, it can’t be all that bad. The KJV is one lage text Everything is compressed in some way nowadays.

    What is sad is the fact that all those teenage texts are quite meaningless and a complete waste of time.

  10. Peter says:

    I’m not a teenager. I’m 45, but nearly all of my non-work communication and even a significant portion of that involves SMS. Unlike you, I have an unlimited AT&T data plan but not unlimited texting. Last month I went over my 1500 text plan by 300 texts, which cost a ridiculous amount. A lot of my friends have iPhones. When they all finally upgrade to iOS 5, I expect to get my official SMS texts way down and might consider a way to drop my texting plan, possibly by using Google Voice or something along those lines.

  11. Hamranhansenhansen says:

    You are happy with SMS because you have very straightforward needs. You are using iPhones that all have SMS, you have a user who truly needs and uses SMS for what it is best at, and you and the people you are messaging are all in the same country.

    Me, I have an iPhone that has SMS and an iPad that does not, so iMessage adds messaging to the iPad. All my friends have iPhones except one who has an iPod touch, so iMessage is more inclusive for me than SMS. And although I am in the US, about half my friends are not. Have you seen what international SMS costs? iMessage brings everyone together for free over Wi-Fi, and for extremely minimal data charges over 3G. The 1 megabyte of data you estimate iMessage takes per month is $10 on AT&T, and a mere 40 SMS messages from San Francisco to Toronto is also $10.

    Some users are also in and out of cell range, like my brother in Alaska. I can SMS him when he is at work, but when he is at home, he is offline from SMS, even though he is in Wi-Fi. iMessage means I can just text him now, don’t need to know where he is. The phone ought to be smart enough to do that.

  12. punkassjim says:

    I fail to see why anyone would turn iMessage OFF. I mean: a) it’s available to you, b) you can use it in conjunction with SMS, c) it will not (it seems we ultimately agree) significantly eat away at your data plan, and d) you could then, at the end of the month, assess your SMS usage (and your wife’s, and your daughter’s) to see if any of you could drop down to a lesser SMS bundle.

    Even if it doesn’t personally benefit you right now, it certainly DOES benefit you in the long term to support the fruition of this system. The whole SMS thing is a racket. A ridiculously antiquated money-printing machine. If iMessage and related protocols take off, and you have a hand in their success in bringing the SMS racket down in the (admittedly very) long term, then I’d say it’s a worthwhile toggle to just leave on.

    Also, yours isn’t the only person’s phone bill that matters. Your recipients today are impacted by your decision. If you ever trade texts with another iOS user who actually IS only trading texts with other iOS users, then your non-iMessage-using butt is likely a thorn in his/her side :-)

  13. Patrick says:

    You are missing the whole point. iMessage is groundbreaking because it replaces SMS automatically with absolutely zero friction, while adding useful features and speed.

    Not every feature will be super useful to every person. By your logic, I could stand up saying that system-wide tweeting is useless because I don’t use any social network services and only use email. That doesn’t mean it’s useless.

  14. addicted says:

    Its likely you don’t text anyone outside your country.

    I also have ATT’s unlimited plan, but any texts outside the US cost me 0.25 outbound, and 0.50 inbound. Until now Whatsapp was the way to go. I will still keep Whatsapp to communicate with the dwindling number of BB toting friends, but a large number of folks I couldn’t text are now available easily thanks to iMessage.

  15. Jeroen says:

    iMessage isn’t only beneficial to you but to everyone else with iPhones texting you as well. You don’t want to be the one in your group of friends that costs money to text to. Leaving iMessage turned on saves other people money. That’s its biggest plus I think.

  16. mark says:

    dude. 10000 texts a month? 10000/30 = 330/day 330/16 hours (awake) is roughly 20/hour

    it’s late, i was never good at math, but

    one text message every 3 minutes for 16 hours, EVERY DAY? no.

  17. Daniel says:

    Let me get this straight: 1) You have an unlimited text plan 2) You never leave country 3) You never text to phones outside your country 4) Your friends don’t have iPhones

    Since your situation must clearly apply to everyone, everywhere in the world, iMessage is useless not only to you, but everyone.

    Here is some insight: The situation varies from person to person. Some might have unlimited text plans, but could probably drop down to a lower tier due to iMessage. Others never had unlimited texting, and can save some money right away, without actively doing anything for it besides upgrading their OS.

    iMessage is convenient. It’s transparent to the user. It enables you not only to see if a message was successfully delivered, but if it actually has been read. It’s fast. The process of sending the message is even faster where I am with iMessage, than is with traditional SMS. There’s absolutely no downside what-so-ever.

  18. Sofa says:

    Have you never heard of Google Voice? If you need unlimited texts that work on all carriers why not simply use it when others don’t have an iOS device? Will it use a data plan? Sure, but why let the carriers earn orders of magnitude Return on Investment (ROI) for texts that cost them a negligible amount to send even at 10,000 per month when they are simply a defined form of the same data already in your plan. The best part of this is you brag about your choice when in reality you are no different than the tourist that won’t buy general travel insurance, but steps right up to guard against terrorism (a subset of travel risks covered by the general insurance). It is known as prospect theory.

    You absolutely did buy an unlimited data plan, unfortunately you limited it to the form of texts at how much ($20 a month perhaps). Instead you could simply pay the $10 per gig difference and be up $10 a month with increased functionality and utility to use however you see fit rather than how the carrier determines you use it (SMS only).

    Take a look: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/06/how-much-does-your-data-cost/

    How many texts could you send a month? What about 10,000? That would be around 330 a day. If each text message took 30 seconds to type, that would be almost 3 hours of texting. Ok. Good enough. This would be 3.7 x 10-4 GB.

    With iMessage for iOS, and Google Voice working in tandem (you could use TextNow with GV as well to further enhance functionality and keep MMS) you could be saving $10 a month rather than claiming the unlimited text plan is a better deal for you.

    Something to consider,

    Sofa

  19. Steve says:

    I recently moved overseas, I was shocked at the cost of text messages, but what really shocked me was that I’ve tried different phones, different providers, and different apps, none of which could deliver a text in less than a 100k package. My daughter in her first time using her phone had over 8000 texts, how? I have no idea, the bill was eyewatering. A teenager can do anything she put her mind to.

  20. David says:

    I understand how in your case it’s nearly useless. In my case, I live in Brazil and I am now actively messaging with friends in the US, Canada, Japan, Spain, and Bangladesh that I would not otherwise be able to chat with (unless I got them all to download What’s App or a similar app). And all each of us had to do was upgrade our iOS. So for me, and for them, it’s been a win-win. It’s a YMMV scenario, for sure, but I’d venture to say the number of people in your shoes is very tiny compared to the number of people in mine (hey you guys, get out of my shoes!).

  21. Andrew says:

    I have three daughters - two teenage and one coming up - and I’d say you are pretty spot on with the numbers. The trick is to have them pay for their own plan. It’s the only way to get any kind of self-regulation on text volume.

  22. Hardik says:

    I agree with the popular sentiment that SMS is a scam. I was on a $5/200 messages a month with ATNT and dropped it after 2 months after I realized that I dont go over 10 messages a month (sent and received) as almost all people I know use smartphones (large fraction thereof being iPhones) and prefer email like me. And now all they offer is $20/unlimited and say they are looking out for the customer.

    While there are apps like viber (free text, phone calls to any iPhone in the world on wifi/3G), pingchat (this ones cross platform, free, I would recommend your daughter use this in addition to iMessage if you can somehow get unlimited data which would solve your texting woes completely) and many more in the app store of course.

    With iMessage I doubt I will ever hit double digits for SMS ever again. But looks like the carriers had substantial leverage to force Apple into integrating iMessage with the messages application instead of making it standalone so in the rare case of network issues I will get an SMS instead of an iMessage

    I would say your case is a minority (albeit a sizable one) for whom iMessage offers few benefits currently. Hopefully that will change with time. In the meanwhile Andrew’s suggestion is your best bet.

  23. Pip Smith says:

    I upgraded to iOS 4 and i cannot see message on my iPhone but I can see it on my iPad 1 How do I turn it on the Iphone?

  24. João Silva says:

    Google Talk

  25. Marco Pompei says:

    Although it may not be a big deal in the US it’s nice in some places, here in Brazil we don’t have an unlimited SMS plan and even packages are kinda limited.

  26. Paul Eccles says:

    iMessage is faster than SMS in my experience. It’s so cheap it’s basically free. It has more features, like seeing whether the other person is typing,or has read your message. What’s not to like?

  27. Rahoul Baruah says:

    In the UK Blackberry has been the fastest growing brand amongst teenagers for the last couple of years (well rich-ish teenagers anyway).

    Why?

    Because of BBM.

    That’s exactly where iMessage is aiming…

  28. Richard Wills says:

    I am amused at the number of men answering these postings who never spend any time with teenagers. I get it from both directions, being around my granddaughter and that I am Going to OCC for a Film Major. You guys really don’t have a clue about what the young folks are doing.

    But the main reason I am “texting” you genuises, is why haven’t any of you created an app that monitors and shows our realtime data usage rates right up there on the topline with the battery monitor?

    Do to my living circumstances, I am stuck with a WiFi data plan from AT&T. In a real old neighborhood, for the amusement of you greybeards this house had a “party line” installed umpteen years ago. Therefore the WiFi.

    And AT&T makes it difficult to monitor usage of said in & out data flow. It was clumsy enugh before, but just a few weeks ago they did an “upgrade” that forces us customers to have to drill down two more layers of our account sites to find out what our usage was, several days ago! This is similar to having a car without a fuel gauge, and when you go to the gas station to fill up, you will not be permitted for several days to know how many gallons you pumped. And how much you will be charged until the end of the billing cycle in several weeks.

  29. John says:

    Since I mostly exchange text messages with other iPhones, I no longer need a text plan. Any number of texts would be negligible megabytes, even if I didn’t have unlimited data. Of course, I don’t have teenaged girls, but it just shows that different people have different needs.

  30. Jon says:

    Others have already made the excellent point that you are just one case. For me, iMessage is one of the features that is most exciting about iOS 5. Texting plans are a complete rip-off, but I can now text my wife, brother, and many friends without worry.

    Besides, your central complaint is one that Apple cannot fix by itself. It requires cooperation across the makers of mobile OSes. For Blackberry, BBM is a competitive feature. They just won’t let competitors waltz in and use it absent pressure from customers (see below). Yet, Apple should not try to build something similar? Your logic simply does not hold.

    Finally, you miss the long term. This is a shot across the bow of the cellular carriers. Blackberry already has a messaging system. Apple now does. Android is going to get one soon. At some point, customers are going to demand that these systems work together. In other words, once every OS has a version of messaging, it will cease to be feature that the OS makers can use against each other and pressure will form for cooperation. At point, carriers will be left in the cold, and your teenage daughter can text to her heart’s content.

    This is what you want, so don’t dismiss it.

  31. Chris H. says:

    Kerp in mind the other advantage of iMessages- pictures and videos are not subject to MMS compression. Have you ever sent anyone a video? Over MMS it usually gets downgraded to near unwatchability.

  32. Ty Davison says:

    Client’s teenage daughter last year: 48,000 texts in one month. That was her “record” so to speak. Normal months were 10,000 to 20,000.

  33. SBMobile says:

    You know what I can’t stand about you so-called “journalists” these days?? Is the fact that you guys are in such a hurry to print a story or article, that you never take the time to research or do some fact finding to make sure your reporting accurate information. Sometimes a little “common-sense” doesn’t hurt either! If you thought about it for a second, you’d realize iMessages benefits are with people that don’t use iPhone’s, but are always in a “wi-fi” area or text a lot, while you also need to stay in contact with them. iMessage is perfect for your kids or a spouse when you want to split up in the mall or anywhere, but want to stay in touch. If you were a REAL tech-blogger, you’d never tell your readers you’ve never used something you should have! If you’d at least gone to a local Best Buy or Apple Store, you’d instantly realize that iPad iMessaging is actually a lot faster than iPhone messaging. Ignorance on a topic you’re taking the time to write about, is unacceptable in this age of media & information! The “everyone-else-is-dumb” theory isn’t applicable anymore! You actually have to know what you’re talking about in an age where “1” company is succeeding, while everyone else is failing! It’s your job if you’re going to write for the public, to know what the cause & effect of these events are. If you don’t, all you’re doing is making the entire web nation know that you’re an uninformed HACK, that is clueless! Think about it!

  34. Doodpants says:

    I will not argue with your perceived lack of a great advantage of iMessage over regular text messaging, but those of us with an iPod Touch have never had the ability to send SMS-style text messages in the first place, before iMessage came along. I understand that this “texting” thing is all the rage with the kids these days, and now I have the ability to try it out and see what all of the fuss is about.

    P.S. Get off my lawn!

  35. Skylar Woodward says:

    iMessage advantages over SMS:

    • delivery receipts
    • read receipts
    • encrypted
    • no extra charge for MMS/photos
    • can be sent/received by people w/o a cell phone plan
    • can be sent via WiFi (eg, via airplane, bad signal areas)

    Major disadvantages:

    • cant be sent when wifi/3G-data is down (eg, concerts, festivals)
    • sender must have iOS device

    As others pointed out, it is a nice supplement to SMS when it works, usually offering a better experience (have you seen how some carriers handle photos in MMS?) - especially for delivery/read receipts, and sometimes facilitating msgs when SMS can’t. So why not use it?

    Ending the SMS racket is a great point but a sort of freedom crusade that will be lost on general consumers.

  36. Colin F says:

    Why turn it off?

    If you leave it on, and the recipient is an iPad/iPhone/iPod owner, they’ll get your message no matter what device they’re holding.

    If you turn it off, they’ll only get the message when they’re at their iPhone.

    I can’t see the benefit of turning it off. It’s just the same as SMS, except better. The data argument just doesn’t wash - you’d never eat into a data plan anywhere near your limit.

    As for photos…. have you seen the charges for MMS?? Free on iMessage!

  37. Justin Horn says:

    I like iMessage. I don’t care about data usage, I will not go over.

    But what I can’t do is drop the unlimited texting plan and go to 0.20c text by text plan. So AT&T has got me by the balls. I can pay $30 for unlimited family plan or spend ~$30-40 (per each of the 2 lines) on the leftover non iMessage texts on the text by text plan. So basically using iMessage would have be paying for unlimited and only using about 200 text (per line) per month.

    So I am tempted to not use iMessage just so I can at least cost ATT about $2 a month by my texting and get some of that $30 worth!

  38. Doolybug says:

    Incoming texts also count as usage. A teenage girl could easily send and receive (from ALL her friends) thousands and thousands of messages. Has everybody overlooked this?

  39. Marcos El Malo says:

    Even if you don’t need iMessage or see a direct benefit, there is at least an indirect benefit. The telcos overcharge for SMS to an insane degree. iMessage and similar services are competition, and put pressure on the telcos to bring their SMS rates in line with reality.

    Frankly, I am surprised that Sprint or T-Mobile in the U.S. hasn’t started offering unlimited SMS for free with their standard package. The iPhone has been a lifeline for Sprint and the acquisition of T-Mobile with ATT has hit some snags and might not go through.

  40. nalenb says:

    In the interest of adding another data point, I have 2 teenagers each hitting about 4k - 5k messages per month (and I have an 11 year old and 9 year old coming up to the teenage years). About 90% of their texts are to non-iOS devices. From discussions with other parents of teenagers I think our usage is about average. I also teach 30 16-17 year olds each morning. 2 have iPhones. The ones that have iPod Touches don’t text on them at all. I live in a pretty affluent suburb of Denver too. Teenagers have a real need to be able to text without looking at their phone so they aren’t caught texting in class.

    I haven’t turned off iMessage for any of our iPhones because the user experience is a little better than plain SMS. However, there’s no way I could turn off unlimited texting. I suspect anyone with teenagers will have to keep unlimited texting.

  41. Clark says:

    iMessage will become a killer feature as soon as it is integrated into iChat. I can’t believe Apple would leave iMessage totally off OSX, although there may be a delay much like there was with FaceTime.

    BTW - glad I still have 8 years before having to worry about teenage daughters.

    I should note that with iMessage both AT&T and Verizon are now incentivizing it so you almost always end up with unlimited texting anyway. That was kind of inevitable.

  42. Paul says:

    I don’t text anyone who has an iOS device either so it is of little benefit to me on my iOS device, but most everyone I text uses Google Voice so we get unlimited texting that way. Though for my family back in Europe I still need to pay crazy International SMS rates (still cheaper than buying them all $600 iPads!).

  43. Matthew says:

    I do not have a texting plan at all - I actually have texting disabled with AT&T. I hate paying for them since they charge way more than they cost, bandwidth-wise. Therefore, I love iMessage. Now I am not 100% reliant on the TextFree app I use now, because I figure they will someday want to charge me for the free phone number they’ve given me that I use just for texting.

  44. David Liu says:

    Why are you guys even bothering with SMS at this point?

    Why not just use a regular IM client?

  45. mjc says:

    As others have also pointed out, iMessage is good for within-the-country texts and great for international texts.

    iMessage would be even better if it could work with non-iOS devices.

  46. BM says:

    I switched back to the blackberry from the iPhone but with the new iMessage, the texts from people with iPhones only goes to the iPhone and NOT my current blackberry. Do I need to downgrade the iPhone? Thoughts?