Apple has announced that the successor to Lion is on the way. Mountain Lion is set for release this summer, and a preview is already available for developers. For us mere mortals, the wait goes on – well, not quite.
Messages Beta is a part of Mountain Lion you can download now – it replaces iChat with the same functionality as found in iMessage on iOS 5 devices such as iPad and iPhone. Features include the ability to send unlimited iMessages to other Macs, iPads, iPhones and iPod touches with iMessage capabilities.
You’ll also be able to start an iMessage conversation on your Mac, then transfer it to your mobile device when you leave the room or house. As with other iOS devices running iMessage, Messages will automatically sync all conversations between desktop and mobile, so you’re always up to date
As with iOS’s version of iMessage, you can send photos, videos, attachments, locations, contacts and more, plus launch FaceTime video calls too, which basically involves linking to the FaceTime app already present on your Mac.
Note that iMessages will replace iChat on your Mac, but iChat services will continue to work as previously. That means there’s still support for a selection of other IM accounts, including AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk and Jabber, for example, while iChat Theater becomes simply Theater.
What has changed, naturally, is the interface. This now more closely resembles iMessage on iOS 5, and consists of a persistent window collating all of your conversations, regardless of which platform they’re on. Conversations are listed in the left-hand pane, and individual ones can be removed by highlighting them and clicking the X button that appears. When selected, the content of a conversation is displayed in the larger right-hand pane, complete with speech bubbles and – crucially – the network you’re conversing on, displayed at the bottom of the window.
Sadly, there are some limitations: you can’t store a list of people you chat with; instead you need to know – and type – their moniker by hand to initiate a conversation with them. And be prepared to hear all your mobile devices beep as you receive messages, which can get quite annoying. But otherwise it’s looking promising – if you buy into the whole iMessage concept, of course.
Note: remember this is a beta release, and may be unstable. The final release will appear with Mountain Lion, due this summer.