Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Apple Says: “We Weren’t Lying” AIM *Will* Be A Turd!

I recently accused Apple of lying, by showing an AOL Instant Messenger application at the iPhone SDK rollout. My argument was that since AIM stands for AOL *Instant* Messenger (my emphasis) that they were actually showing an *instant* messenger. As such, instant notification of messages when they arrived at your phone would be required for such a product. Therefore to demonstrate AIM at the launch of an SDK that explicitly prevents such background notification would be a lie, since AOL would never offer an AIM client without such notification.

However, according to John Gruber at daringfireball.net:
As a postscript on the “no background apps” policy, a source confirmed to me that the iPhone AIM client AOL demoed during the iPhone Roadmap event does not cheat by continuing to run in the background — it quits when you switch to another app, but doesn’t log you out of AIM automatically. Such a client can’t notify you of IM messages from the background (a la the way the iPhone notifies of you SMS messages), but when you switch back to the AIM app, messages you missed should appear. Be wary of claims that “An app that does X is impossible without background processing.”

I trust John implicitly on his Apple insider info. This makes me *wrong*.

I also said in my follow up, that this was AOL and that as such, anything was possible, and so they just might do something this lame. But to tell you the truth I really didn’t believe that. It was and is inconceivable to me that AOL would bring perhaps their most important franchise to the iPhone in such a way that it would be little more (in fact perhaps a little less) useful than *non-push* email.

If even the big name partners will be prevented from making useful communications products that actually do things like notifying you of incoming messages – let alone any other interesting communications related applications – the implications are staggering. I just still have a hard time believing this is so.

I do think, though, that John’s conclusion that this demonstrates one should be wary of people (that would be me) saying you can’t do X on the iPhone because of background processing is quite off. You have no need to be wary of me. I am telling the truth about the significance of no backgrounding, and John is demonstrating that fact.

What this really suggests is that Apple is going to prevent *everyone* from doing communications products in a very evenhanded – perhaps ham-handed – way. They are OK with the entire third party communications app category failing – at least for a while. What was to me a huge downside for developers outside the velvet rope, has just become an astonishing downside for all iPhone users. And if I want instant in my instant messaging, I better stick to my old school Blackberry.

In truth, I think I preferred the situation where Apple was just lying. Because AOL Instant Messenger without instant messages – that totally sucks.


  1. So I'm trying to figure out if this is a case of Steve being such a control freak he doesn't want any 3rd party apps spoiling his precious device with background operations or if instead he is just protecting the ATT profit machine. After all, why do you need IM when you can use *SMS? (*More SMS text messages can be added to any plan - for a nominal fee).

  2. Thanks for calling stupidity by its real name. Even my Palm Treo 700p, which uses a non-multitasking OS, allows background processes (almost). I had high hopes for the iPhone, and especially for the iTouch. I guess it's back to the Nokia N810 and the Treo until Android is available on a good hardware platform. Hopefully supporting WiMAX . . .

  3. As an old fart at 40+, even I must agree with the characterization of (today's) AIM on the iPhone as a 'turd'. Yes, I do appreciate some IM services (Yahoo) that deliver cached messages received while offline. But even AOL recognizes this is lame by offering an SMS gateway that publishes my presence as 'online' when I'm not and delivers messages via SMS.

    So, what does this mean for AIM on the iPhone? That I'll no longer receive AIM messages via SMS, and be forced to login to AIM from my cluttered iPhone interface to check that I have messages? This is far worse than polling POP mail access.

    This is a severe limitation for communications-based apps. However, I'm not going to bash Apple (yet). They've done a lot in a short period of time. How long has Android been in development? Google bought the company in mid-2005, and it started in 2003. Five years and a beta SDK. I hope that Android's success can only help push Apple to expand the SDK to support background processes.

  4. Now...where are all the Mac fans now?




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