iChat 6 review

iChat 6 is the first iteration of the messaging tool that can really rival some of Mac messaging client Adium’s advances in the IM software space.

iChat 6 now lets you sign into the Yahoo IM platform – iChat already offered support for the AIM, me.com, Mac.com, and Google Talk IM networks. It also includes Jabber support, which means you can use iChat to connect to other IM networks, including Facebook Chat.

If you have a friend with accounts on multiple services, iChat’s approach for combining your friend’s accounts into a single buddy entry isn’t as intuitive as Adium’s. In iChat, you must C-click on each name, and then choose Add to Address Book as One Card from the contextual or Buddies menu.Do that, and you’ll lose any custom name you’ve given the contact, requiring you to edit it all over again.

iChat 6 supports a unified status; you set your status once, and it updates all the services you’re using. The app now makes it easier to add a photo to your IM buddies: you can choose from your iPhoto faces. If you often chat with lots of people simultaneously, you’ll appreciate that iChat 6 lets you drag chat tabs out of the main window into windows of their own, and merge chats together by dragging them onto each other.

iChat 6 in Lion finally adds built-in support for Yahoo's instant messaging service

Annoyingly, iChat still relies on a mostly useless Dock icon bounce to keep tabs on messages, with no other information provided about incoming messages unless you navigate back to iChat’s window.

iChat does have one massive advantage over Adium: excellent audio and video chat support. In Lion, iChat supports full-screen mode when you’re video chatting, which works well. If you swipe away from the full-screen video chat to another screen on your Mac, the call continues. (That’s in contrast to FaceTime’s full-screen mode, which places your call on hold.) You can even use the new silly Photo Booth effects as you video chat.

OUR VERDICT

iChat 6 is the best version to date, yet it feels out of place in the Apple app ecosystem. Other stock Apple programs – Mail, Safari, iTunes – compete aggressively with their rivals, but it seems that Apple doesn’t view Adium as a competitor, which is a shame. iChat’s interface lacks well-defined niceties that could make the iChat experience far better, especially in the company of FaceTime.

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