Mac and PC users are a fickle lot. We bounce from trend to fad to the next great thing. Email was popular for awhile. Spam killed the fun. One-to-one online chatting became the rage, then added voice, and video. Chat is a distant memory.
What’s the Hot Fad of the Day™? Twitter; 140 character micro-blogging for the masses. Following the tweets of Larry King and Ryan Seacrest will grow old. Next up will be the retro tool, chat. But not iChat. Not Skype. Something even older and bolder. As in instant messaging.
Retro Chat For The Masses
Trends come and go, first something new, something newer, then it all goes backwards again. Mark my words. Chat is about to make a comeback thanks to AOL (which made online chat mainstream).
You remember online chat, right? Instant messaging. It was like instant, real time email, person to person, keyboard to eyeball.
Proprietary chat protocols sprang up overnight, filling the email void with differing standards of communication so communication became difficult again.
Who remembers AOL’s AIM? How about Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, IRC, Jabber, Skype, Google Talk? Those were the good old days when hours were wasted slaving over your Mac’s hot keyboard, all in the name of high tech communication, one keystroke at a time.
Apple Loves Chat? Really?
Always the innovator, Apple anointed and blessed online chat by introducing iChat to Mac users years ago.
As Macs became more powerful and users adopted the technology by the hundreds, iChat became the centerpiece at Apple keynote presentations. Not only could Mac users chat with each other using a keyboard, Apple executives could also talk to one another like a bad phone connection.
But, with an iSight camera in your Mac, you could even see other iChat users, though audio seldom synced with video outside of Macworld Expo presentations.
Always years ahead of Windows users, person-to-person video conferencing was about to explode between Mac users. Then, along came Twitter, and Mac users forgot about instant messaging, iChat, Skype, and video conferencing. Communication became one way. Again. The darkness of micro-blogging descended over Mac users.
Chat Is Reborn As A High Tech Retro Trend
If what goes around comes around, then retro will be the trend of the future, and who better to take advantage of new technology than the guardian of the past, the anachronism that will not die (despite years of self inflicted attempts), AOL.
Mac and Windows users will rush to adopt the technology of a retro chic AIM. Amid the rebirth of said retro chic, AIM for the Mac rises from the ashes.
AIM brings Lifestream to Mac users, a tab to keep tabs on your friends. 21st century AIM lets you view Facebook and Twitter without the pesky influence of a separate stand-alone utility that bogs you down with more useful features.
AOL enlisted the best graphic designers, recently laid off from Fisher Price, to produce a preferences toolbar that is pure art. Imagine, a General setting using a light switch button. Privacy is pictured as a padlock. A speaker for Sounds settings. Gears for Extras. Is there no end to AOL’s design prowess.
AIM Aims For The Past To Hit The Future
Like iChat, AIM for Mac is a floating window with tabs and tools. In an effort to extend personality to the cold bits and bytes of computer tools, AIM adds a little window at the top of the toolbar for a personalized avatar, an icon, or a miniature photo of yourself, visible to others who connect to you.
The Buddies button will list all the AIM and iChat buddies, as well as Family members, and Co-Workers (because we know how much more productive and efficient we are when chatting with people at work).
Clicking the mail icon at the bottom of the AIM window opens up AOL email. In Safari. If AOL continues on this fast pace of technology development, AOL mail could begin to resemble Yahoo! mail, or, Apple’s MobileMe email. In a few years.
The Me tab lists the number of buddies connected to your account, the number of Lifestream updates, notifications, and a few other settings. Preferences abound, including the Buddy List, IM (internet talk for instant messaging), your Away Message, Sounds and alerts, Screen Names, and Extras.
The latest version of AIM for Mac goes completely retro, discarding the creature comforts of iChat (like audio chat or video chat) in favor of pure communication—keyboard text.
By far, the most underrated feature in AIM for Mac is Lifestream. With a single click you can view what’s going down with your Twitter peeps, view wall scribblings in Facebook. Ever mindful of the need for humor in a world full of harsh reality, AIM provides elegant user alerts with impeccable timing.
For example, before setting up Lifestream, AIM warns the Mac user: Sorry, there are no updates in your Lifestream, but here’s a baby bunny. To top it off, the alert actually displays a caricature of a baby bunny.
AOL’s developers are such scamps.
Clearly, AOL has the future of non-computer literate users in mind with AIM for Mac. True, iChat users can communicate via keyboard text with AIM for Mac users (and, sometimes, AIM for Windows users; when it works), but AIM remains the purists of pure communication tools, instant text devoid of audio or video chat capability.
After all, AOL wants to be able to add features in the future, right? Speaking of the future, AOL also has AIM for iPhone, Blackberry (sic), and Windows Mobile.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re ready to ditch Adium, iChat, and Skype so you can experience the retro wonders of AIM for Mac, right? And who could blame you. Using AIM for Mac is like going off to college and becoming a successful professional, only to come home for a visit and meet your best friend from high school as he pumps gasoline into your rental car.
Talk About It: What do you think of AOL’s anemic update of AIM for Mac?