It is time to bring iChat back.
For those of you unfamiliar with iChat, when Apple released OSX.2 twelve years ago (can you believe it?), it also released a new video/audio messaging system that was to challenge Skype. It came free with every computer.
I suppose not a lot of people used it to its full potential. Apple has a history of deleting unused or underused features (see the latest versions of iWork, and of course RIP iWeb, and iDVD both of which were ahead of their time).
The reason that Apple needs to bring back iChat, or at least the feature set of iChat into its current FaceTime / iMessage video system is this:
iChat had some awesome features that even NOW are not available in the free versions of Skype or Google Hangouts. These included:
Text chat: You could carry out a multi-point text conversation. I know, everyone can do that now, but 12 years ago, that was unheard of.
You could have an audio chat. No big deal, we call that phone calls. But you could call up anyone from your computer and start an audio chat if the text chat was not enough, all without switching programs. Voice over IP for the masses.
If the text and audio were not enough, you could then create a video chat. Again, we are all in the same program, iChat. All of these things are without changing programs.
If talking to a single person were not enough, you could then have a multi-point video connections ( I know, Hangouts has this ability.) Up to 4 connections could be on a conference at a time, and using some nifty video and audio compression techniques, there was little or no lag time even on the crappiest connection.
But to me, the pièce de résistance from iChat was this:
iChat had an amazingly easy way to share files with the other users; You simply dragged and dropped files into the video chat screen and whatever you dropped could be seen by all the users in the chat. Movies, audio files, PDF files, Keynotes, documents, whatever. Wanted to share a video? Drop it into the chat. Want to share a PDF file? Drop it into the video window (which was called the theater). I do believe you could even record the video connection as well. Yes, Skype and others can do that now, but iChat had them all beat to the punch. Even now, the Skype method is more clunky than the drag and drop method of iChat.
When Apple dropped iChat, it replaced it with FaceTime. And while FaceTime is nice for a point A to point B conversation, it is only a single connection. There is no text chat. For that, you have to use Messenger. There is no multipoint connection. There is no screen sharing. There is no file sharing. In order to do those things, you need multiple programs, AND the person on the other side needs multiple programs as well.
Google hangouts or webinar programs such as Blackboard Collaborate are the closest thing now there is to the old iChat. Google allows 6 simultaneous connections and also allows screen sharing.
iChat, was way ahead of its time, and probably most people did not use it to it’s full ability.
But now that Apple is touting “Desktop class” processing on it’s phones and iPads, it is time to bring desktop video conferencing capabilities back.
Time for FaceTime to learn a few tricks from it’s grandfather iChat.
Are you listening Apple?