A FRIEND of Babbage’s often complains about asymmetry in their correspondence. On a good day your correspondent may dash off a thousand words in ten minutes (admittedly not all of equal merit). The recipient feels overwhelmed and sometimes takes weeks to summon enough typing energy to reply. It’s all the fault of Babbage’s father, who in 1979 insisted that the onrushing wave of computers would wash away any who did not know how to type. At the time learning to type smacked of lowly clerical work. Those aiming for better things might struggle through a class, but hope never to touch a keyboard again.
Babbage took the paternal advice to heart, however, learning his home keys on an old manual typewriter, then an electric one, and eventually earning a portion of his college fees as a typesetter. As a result, his typing speed crests well above 100 words per minute (wpm). That’s pretty decent but far short of the clip reached by the best performers (some of whom compete in online typing games).
The asymmetry is even more pronounced in other situations. A photographer friend of Babbage’s notes that when he switched to the iPhone, he felt speedy compared to his chums that still relied on the older T9 predictive numeric keypad text entry system. Another says that he feels like swallowing from the standpipe when a buddy uses Apple’s Siri, a so-far iPhone 4S-only voice-recognition and dictation system, to produce text messages, while he is tapping on virtual keys.
It will only get worse. Babbage downloaded a test version of Messages from Apple’s website on February 15th. Messages is part of the upcoming Mountain Lion (version 10.9) update to Lion (10.8), due out later this year. Mountain Lion brings more Mac OS X features into consistency by name and feature with iOS.
Messages includes all the old instant-messaging features of iChat, which it replaces, including support for AOL Instant Messenger, Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger and Jabber-based servers. But it adds integration with iMessage, Apple’s worldwide text and multimedia messaging service that bypasses mobile carriers’ text fees. Apple’s iOS devices, like the iPhone, use iMessage preferentially. Owners of an iPod touch or iPad (whether or not it has a 3G modem) can also use iMessage, where SMS and MMS service would otherwise require a third-party app and possibly per-message fees. Apple allows the association of multiple phone numbers and e-mail addresses with a single iMessage account.
Babbage has maintained his original text-messaging plan with ATT, in which both he and Mrs Babbage may send and receive up to 200 messages each per month for the princely sum of $5. ATT eliminated that plan and all other metered services, requiring new customers or those who wish to modify text plans to either pay $20 for a single line or $30 for a family plan for unlimited messages, or to pay $0.20 for each text sent or received. iMessage has no fees associated with it. It consumes a few bytes of a data plan for text messages (and more for multimedia) sent via 3G, but uses Wi-Fi when it’s available, unlike mobile SMS and MMS. And because iMessage traverses the internet, it avoids the high fees associated with international texting.
Since iMessage was released as part of iOS 5 in September 2011, your correspondent no longer incurs overage fees for exceeding the 200 messages in his texting plan. Service is also more reliable, and long messages (above the 160 characters permitted in an SMS) are no longer broken into pieces. At the most recent Macworld|iWorld conference, Babbage sent numerous messages among colleagues at no cost; unsurprisingly given the venue, they all toted iPhones.
The integration of iMessage into OS X makes communications between mobiles and desktops that much simpler and more likely to increase faster in quantity. No charges and a single system will result in more messages. Babbage’s friends and colleagues may view that development with apprehension.
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