With the new release of the iPhone OS3.0, there was an expectation that IM on the iPhone would finally enter the 20th century, and a slim chance that it might enter the 21st. Sadly this expectation is denied, and the iPhone continues to be the follower and not the leader in the mobile IM marketplace.
Prior to OS3.0, the iPhone allowed a user to run only one application at one time, (excluding the system applications), and this meant that IM on the iPhone was for the most part a very momentary thing – you could IM – or not. If you were wanting to write an email – no IM. Make a call – no IM.
A few companies attempted to work around the limitation of no background apps through use of push email: if you were ‘busy’ doing something (or even nothing), then you would be emailed notification that you should log into IM to read your messages. This was a temporary workaround and was at the most better than nothing, however due to the lack of reliable push email, you probably only stood a 50% chance of receiving notification after 15 minutes. Issues with the iPhone not pushing email when it roamed from Wifi to GSM caused serious problems.
Herald in OS3.0 and Apple’s solution to lack of background processes: Push Notifications. In theory, a good idea. Why have your phone using power if a server can be sat elsewhere instead?
Apple actually appears to have implemented Push Notifications quite successfully. They appear much more reliable than Push Email, and enable you to be interrupted in a fashion similar to receiving an SMS. Great! We have working chat!? Not quite. Sadly, all iPhone IM applications require the user to use them periodically to keep them connected to the messaging service. Current times range from 4 hours to 3 days.
This is similar to owning a fax machine that requires you to visit it each day to press a button to keep it working. Naturally that important fax (or IM message) telling you that you’ve won $1million always arrives on the 4th day.
Blackberry users can at this point of course gloat, since they’ve had permanent IM on their device, both in the forms of RIM messaging as well as apps from Google (gtalk) and MS for years.
Perhaps at some point Apple will appreciate the value of background applications, or providing a reliable IM app. Until then, I suspect it will have to be Google that comes along and saves the day – they have the server infrastructure that could manage permanently online gtalk clients that always push.