The iChat AV Resurrection

by James R. Stoup Sep 19, 2005

Today’s article is audience participation intensive. That means I want people to answer several questions that I throw out here. Ready? Great. Here goes:

First question, everyone who has ever used some type of instant messenger please raise your hand.

Ok, thank you thank you, you may put your hands down. I see that quite a few of you have used IM services before, wonderful. Alright, moving right along, my second question is, what types of IM services do you use?

Yes, you in the front, jabber you say? Ok, and you, Yahoo, great thanks. And you, MSN you say? Ah well that’s ok, you still have time to turn your life around. And you, ah AIM, good old AOL, an oldie but a goodie. Well, thank you, I seem to be getting the picture.

I have one more question before we move on, who here uses iChat AV with an iSight or other digital video camera?

. . . (silence)
. . . (a cell phone rings in the back)
. . . (the fat guy on the left farts but pretends like he didn’t)

Anyone use iChat AV? Anyone at all? Anybody? Anyone ever heard of iChat AV? Alright, a few hands! Well, at least I am not completely alone here.

Now, if you ask those same three questions to your average bunch of computer geeks you will get the same general answers. Yes, most people have used some type of IM services before. Of those services AIM, Jabber, Yahoo and MSN are the most popular. And few people really use iChat AV to its fullest extent. In fact, if you use OS X then chances are you have downloaded Adium and are using that instead of Apple’s default IM client.

And yet iChat AV has the potential to be a very powerful tool. Instant video conferencing with three other people is a very nice feature. But most people don’t use it because of its steep (as compared to AIM and others) requirements.

These requirements are:
1. OS X with iChat AV installed
2. Broadband internet connection
3. An iSight or equivalent piece of equipment
4. Someone whom you actually want to talk to who also has items 1-3

Now compare that with what you need to get AIM working:
1. Any operating system with AIM on installed
2. Dial up
3. A friend

Clearly it is much easier to use AIM or Jabber than iChat. And its cheaper too because an iSight cost $150. And yet, despite all of the difficulties I think iChat AV has a future and a very positive future at that. If you want to know why check out this link, laptop latch camera.

The idea behind the patent is that in the latch of a laptop a small camera will be installed. Now, I imagine that this camera can, and will, be used for still pictures. However, it could just as easily be used as a webcam. So, imagine in a couple of years if Apple upgraded all of its laptops to include these small latch cameras, what would happen? Well, iChat AV would become much more popular because the single most expensive component (the iSight camera) is automatically built into your laptop. All you have to do is plug it into a fast connection and away you go.

But what would happen after that? Well, eventually Dell, Sony, Acer and the rest would copy the idea and include cameras in their laptops. Then, what if Apple released iChat AV for Windows? Well, since Apple has been consistently making it better for the last few years I can only conclude that it would be the best product in the market. Which, in turn, would make in the most popular program for video enabled IM. So I wouldn’t write off iChat AV just yet because the best might just be yet to come.

Come to think of it I believe that between Intel, flash drives and this new patent, Apple laptops might look very different in five or six years. But only time will tell.


  • The trouble with the patent is that it’s false- my Dad has a 2-year-old Sony 12” laptop with a camera in the latch. It’s neither novel nor unique.

    DevanJedi had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 4
  • A general comment about this site, whose concept I like very much and up until a month ago I read regularly, but I just couldn’t stand all the “noise” from the incredible number of punctuation, grammar, and mechanics errors and, from one columnist, the ponderous diction. In any event, I came back today, but the situation’s even worse. See you in another month or so.

    Richard Freed had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 2
  • iChatAV is an excellent piece of work, very easy, very convenient, but it lacks the spread. As you say, there should be a windows version, usage would explode. Even without the camera, just for audio.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 371
  • Sony has had laptops with camera’s built-in for ages…

    of course, when apple does it Mac users everywhere will shout about how innovative Apple is.

    The quality of a built-in camera must also be pretty weak when compared to an iSight. unless the lid is 10cm thick.

    Oliver had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 15
  • I disagree. I think iChat AV has a looong way to. It far from easy. The specs say “Broadband Connection” but there needs to be specific up and download speeds. If you use a router, then you must actually go in and open specific poirts to allow the iSight to work.

    Video chatting, even one way, with a windows user sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. And I have yet to Video Chat with my kids…and we are both high speed Cable.

    Check out the forums and see all the difficulties people are having with time out messages and :no data sent” messages.

    The iChat and iSight combination were, in my opinion, over promised in their simplicity. If a consumer (not prosumer) has to go in and configure a router and port forwarding, then it will never be a popular vehicle for communication.

    You know what’s funny…Yahoo video chat may not look as good as Apple’s, but it connects and works EVERY time I do it.

    I just want a solution that “just works”. Isn’t that what Apple is all about?

    cbrg148 had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I do use iChat AV to videochat with family members. I’m in NYC, my sister and family are in Denver and my parents in Los Angeles. I also have friends in Beijing and Germany. We videochat regularly and we love it.

    However, I am the only one with a Dual 2.5 G5. Everyone else is on the minimal requirements that allow iChat video conferencing (G3, low MHz G4). What this means is that we cannot have multi-way video conference, it all has to be 1-on-1. The requirements are actually steeper than listed in the column. A premium investment is called for by all parties in order to take full advantage of iChat’s features.

    As time goes by, I’m sure our friends and family will upgrade their systems. But we’re content for now, it beats talking over the phone and paying the telecoms their ridiculous rates.

    tom had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 4
  • ichat has a lot of potential, but as you say, it has too many prerequisites. instead, it should focus on helping users balance their multimedia needs against their available bandwidth.

    my idea, basically, is that ichat would show you a real-time graphical representation of your available bandwidth. maybe it’s a bar graph. maybe a pie chart. whatever it is, as you choose your audio and video options, you would be able to SEE how much bandwidth you’re using and when you’re over the limit.

    like itunes, ichat should start with some basic presets for dialup or broadband, video size & quality & audio quality. these basic settings should be editable so you can save custom settings which work best with your equipment.

    if ichat could be more flexible…it would be useable for a much larger selection of the mac OSX user base and by extension, more relevant in the marketplace. for that to happen, apple has to unlock the door and open ichat to 3rd party cameras and focus on making the tricky task of balancing options vs. bandwidth as easy as choosing some presets.

    david r.

    david randall had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 10
  • cbrg

    For many of us iChat does just work. I have modified not ports on my router and have not had to change any settings yet I can communicate with multiple friends and family. Oddly, those who use AIM (windows users), to talk to me are far more limited and required to make the changes you mention but the iChat users just work.

    It is my understanding that some people have seen some new issues with iChatAV under tiger as Apple has implemented some additional standards into the code and found that as much as we would all like to believe it is, the internet is not standards based.

    My best recommendation for everyone using iChat AV is to check out these articles:

    They can help you understand where the problems come from.

    Doug Petrosky had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 26
  • Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but to use iChat dont you need to be a .mac member?  and doesnt that cost money?  Adium is free.  msn is free.  and my friends all have msn. 
    Also, Adium has all-in-one-ness.  I dont need to open two programs for all my different accounts.

    bitz had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 1
  • Hi bitz,
    no iChat is not .mac only, anyone with a mac that meets the specifications can use it.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 354
  • windows based video IMs are better and cheaper, take for instance you can get a logitech camere for 30 $us. so let’s wait until apple build laptops with camera included.

    xmno had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 6
  • My Father and I both use iChat AV weekly to talk to my sister and family in Melbourne. Sometimes the video from Australia goes blocky, but that’s down to their upstream speed on a 256K connection. We both have 2Mb BT Broadband here in the UK, and our transmission is always excellent.
    I set my brother-in-law’s iMac G5 up before they moved out there with an iSight, then he just plugged it into a broadband connection and we’ve been ‘seeing’ each other just fine vere since.
    As with most things Apple, ‘it just works!’

    nigelg had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I think the iChat AV is a superb thing, if you have requirements 1-4, number four makes me use msn because that is what everybody else has.

    SaddlerB had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 11
  • I have to partially disagree with dk, I’ve yet to see a Windows video IM that works better than iChat AV, provided you have the system requirements covered - and that’s the hitch right there.  Multi-user conferences on newer iMac’s and/or PowerMac’s are excellent but how many people really have them?  My PowerBook does great, my Mini, well, not so much.  But when you’ve got 3-4 users at once with the horsepower to do it, then it’s the coolest (and best) thing around.

    Is Windows-based Video IM cheaper?  Certainly.  Everything in Windows-land is always cheaper.  For the price of an iSight now you can almost get a brand new lower-end MiniDV cam with firewire and let’s face it - they’re a heckuva lot more useful than an iSight is.  The iSight is horribly overpriced for what it is, a mediocre camera at best designed to work with perhaps the best video IM software available.  Now if only I could change the interface a bit for when I have to type to those Windows AIM users….

    dickrichards2000 had this to say on Sep 19, 2005 Posts: 112
  • wow.. what rock have you been hiding under.
    integrated cameras and webcams are not a new feature:

    those are the two off the top of my head; i’m sure there are more out. My guess is that now that Asus is building apple’s ibook for them, they finally got around to adding that feature.

    Secondly, video chat is already avaliable on many popular IM services. I personally have used it on MSN and ICQ. I don’t really care much for it, but every once in a while it’s nice to talk to my grandparents in hong kong, or chat with my cousin in real time.

    makken had this to say on Sep 20, 2005 Posts: 21
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