iMessage redux

Back in October, I wrote a post about iMessage in which I explained why it wasn’t a particularly useful service for me and my family. That was true at the time, but times have changed. Yesterday’s release of Messages for the Mac was the turning point.

That October post was linked to by Ben Brooks and then by John Gruber, and I came to appreciate their insistence on not have comments on their sites—their audience is big on belligerence and small on reading comprehension. I was accused of being a running dog lackey of the imperialist mobile providers, trying to block the destruction of their hegemony by a ragtag group of texting revolutionaries led by that plucky little rebel, Apple Inc.

All I had said was iMessage didn’t have any advantages for me because my situation forced me to have an unlimited texting package.1

I still have to have an unlimited texting package because my family still texts lots of people who don’t have iPhones. But Messages for the Mac has tipped the balance in favor of turning iMessages back on.

A lot of my texting is done while I’m at work in front of my computer. Tapping away on a phone while my iMac’s nice big keyboard is sitting there staring at me is ridiculous. A couple of months ago, I bought Type2Phone, an application that lets you use your Mac’s keyboard for with your iPhone via a Bluetooth connection. This worked fine for a while, but recently I’ve been having trouble establishing the Bluetooth link between the devices.2 Messages arrived when my frustration with Type2Phone reached its peak. I installed it as soon as I read about it.

Getting iMessage to work seamlessly across several devices wasn’t as easy as just signing in to my Apple account. After installing Messages on my Macs and turning on iMessages on my iPhone, my wife’s iPhone, and my wife’s iMac, I found that messages sent from different devices wound up in different conversation threads. The permutations were numerous, and I can’t recall all of them now, but I was able, after a bit of experimentation and suggestions from friends on Twitter, to get them all merged into a single thread.

Most of the trouble stemmed from my having more than one email address. When I launched Messages the first time and established the connection to my Apple ID, I entered only the email address associated with that account. This was a mistake. To get all messages from all devices in one thread, I

I’m not sure how valuable it was to reenter my addresses in the phone’s Receive At list. The messages did merge after doing so, but that may have been coincidence. I’ve noticed that sometimes Apple’s cloud-based services need a little time to get working, and it’s possible that my reentering of the addresses happened just after Apple’s server settings clicked in place.

It was suggested on Twitter that I should have the Caller ID on my phone set to the same email address I used on my Macs. That seems like good advice, but my messages merged into the same thread without doing so; the Caller ID on my iPhone is still set to my phone number. That’s what it was by default, and I was a little nervous about changing it. Although I think the Caller ID is an iMessage-only setting, Apple doesn’t make that clear.

Update 2/18/12
In this troubleshooting document (which I just learned about through a link at The Loop), Apple says you should set the Caller ID to your Apple ID on all your devices. I don’t want to do this because by Apple ID is an email address I typically don’t use with friends. However, the Apple troubleshooting document also says this:

If you have an iPhone whose conversations aren’t being shared with your other devices, you are most likely sending and receiving iMessages with your iPhone’s phone number. iMessages need to be sent and received with the same email address(es) configured on your other devices.

which suggests that you can use any email address as your Caller ID as long as your devices know about it. Changing the Caller ID on your iPhone from your phone number (the default) to an email address is OK.

Although I was able to get merged conversation streams with the Caller ID on my phone set to the phone number, I’ve since changed it to my standard, “real life” email address and the conversations are still merged.

I doubt that adding the address I use for my Apple ID to my wife’s Contacts entry for me was necessary. I certainly hope it wasn’t, as that would mean I could communicate seamlessly via iMessage only to people who had that address.

After I got the setup straightened out, Messages has been working reasonably well. One sign that it’s beta: I can’t get its Dock icon on my MacBook Air to stop showing the unread messages badge, even though I don’t have any unread messages.

Mistaken Messages badge

The funniest thing about this bug is how persistent it is. When I get a new text the badge changes from 6 to 1; when I read the message, it changes from 1 back to 6. Quitting the app doesn’t get rid of the mistaken badge, nor does quitting and then removing it from the Dock. It’s like the boy who cried wolf—if I ever do have six unread messages, I won’t believe it.

  1. Some commenters, poster children for the Dunning-Kruger effect, argued that I didn’t really need an unlimited texting package. These were, of course, young men with no experience paying for the texting bills racked up by a teenaged daughter. At the time, I had only my own direct experience and the experience of every father of teen girls I know—evidence that apparently means nothing to a 20-something DF reader. Now I have this report from Neilsen, which says that teen girls average 4,000 messages per month. Shockingly, no one has apologized for doubting me. 

  2. The problem arises only with my iMac; the MacBook Air has no trouble connecting to the phone. Unfortunately, it’s during the day when I’m at my iMac that I do most of my texting.