Today we’ll be looking at one of the commercial multiplatform IM apps for the iPhone to embrace push notification, IM+. As soon as I heard about the push notification solution that Apple was ‘pushing’ at WWDC last year, all I wanted from it was a good IM app. It was one of the only things, apart from impressive battery life, that I was jealous of Blackberry users for. Their background apps allowed an always online connection to IM saving the need for text or email conversations when you could quickly fire off a bout of IMs.
Now that the whole push thing is in full swing I’m pleased to say that IM apps on the iPhone are actually useful. IM+ to be fair, allowed you to stay connected at their end and be notified of incoming IM via email. This worked ok, not an ideal solution but the best of a bad lot. Push notification has replaced the need for email notification and is significantly better, but importantly not perfect.
For the basic needs of sending and recieving IMs, IM+ does an admirable job. Messages are sent and recieved instantly and with a pretty clear and intuitive interface. Push notification also works very well. Messages come across as near as instant as one can tell. I must admit, it does get a little annoying when you get a barrage of notifications just because, when people talk on IM, they write lots of small messages and send them immediately rather than longer messages all combined together. When the messages come in you see a preview of the message which might tell you all you need and so you can ignore it. If not you can tap the message to take you straight into the program. Once in the program, IM+ reconnects to all the various IM accounts you’ve got activated and pulls down any outstanding messages allowing you to answer straight away. From the point of view of the person messaging you, you appear to them as if you’re online at a computer. This has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that you appear online even when you’re not allowing anyone to send you a message at any time (unless you’ve let the ‘always online timer’ time out which can be configured between 10 minutes and 3 days). You can also set up an autoreply function if, for example, you want to tell people that you’ll get back to them in a minute. You can of course set different status for your accounts, be it online, online on your iPhone, away, a geolocation or anything else you can think of. Most of the major IM protocols are supported including AIM, Gtalk, MSN and Skype, along with Facebook chat and Twitter so pretty much anyone you know with an IM account can be contacted directly from IM+.
IM+ not only sends IMs but allows sending of pictures and voice messages too and includes loads of customisation, from smilies to the background of the chat window, but the main issue here is something IM+ or any other app on the iPhone available from the App Store cannot overcome. Not having multitasking for anything other than a small selection of Apple only apps means that unless you’re in the app at the time you get a message it’s a relatively slow process to get back into the app, reconnect and start the IM conversation. Push notification can only go so far to elevating the irritation of not being able to run apps in the background. Now don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why Apple doesn’t want apps running in the background, but in this case IM really deserves an app that can and does stay connected all the time you’ve got your iPhone on. That’s not to say that IM+ is rubbish, far from it in fact. Of the available options that Apple has given developers, IM+ is just about as good as an IM app can get on the iPhone. The problem is that exiting an app and going into IM+ takes the iPhone time. It may be considerably faster on the iPhone 3GS, unfortunately I’m not in a position to tell you thanks to the wallet gouging early upgrade fees of O2, but on the iPhone 3G exiting and opening an app is relatively time consuming. It’s not like we’re talking minutes here, it’s probably not even 10 seconds to exit, open IM+ and reconnect, but if you’re having to do that often it can get tedious.
So do I recommend IM+? Yes definitely, IM on the iPhone is finally useful. Is it worth the £5.99 they’re asking for it? That depends on whether you’ve got more than an AIM account and whether you need IM on your iPhone. My advice is to the try out two applications first to see whether IM+ works for you, try IM+ lite. It’ll let you test the app, minus the push notifications. The other app to try is AIM (the ad-supported version) which lets you try push notifications for size. If you don’t have an AIM account, sign up for a screen name and try out the notifications, because they’re not going to be for everyone. If like me you like having the capability to IM to mulitple accounts from your iPhone and don’t want to have to stay in the app to get replies (or don’t want to have to rely on email notifications), the IM+ is an excellent iPhone IM client and will be staying on the home screen of my device.