iChat AV needs a rewrite

iChat AV needs a rewrite

Summary: iChat was once the pantheon of instant messaging clients with its delicious aqua interface, no obnoxious ads (like AIM) and a simple ease-of-use that's undeniable. But since the release of iChat AV (a.k.a. version 3) the application has added features at the expense of reliability.


ichat-icon.jpgiChat was once the pantheon of instant messaging clients with its delicious aqua interface, no obnoxious ads (like AIM) and a simple ease-of-use that's undeniable. But since the release of iChat AV (a.k.a. version 3) the application has added features at the expense of reliability.

First came the addition of audio chat, which was novel ("can you hear me? this is so cool!"), then came the addition of video chat which had the potential to turn every Mac into a video phone. Everyone I know rushed out to buy Apple's US$149 FireWire iSight camera (myself included) just for iChat AV but it wasn't long before the number of video icons in my buddy list started to dwindle. Heck, I couldn't even bother to find and connect my iSight camera after a while. What's the point when there's no one online to chat with?

One of the most common problems I have with iChat is that I can't see someone in my Buddy List that I know is online. Often the reverse is true: I'm online and I'm on a person's buddy list but they don't see me... and that's just with text chat.

Video chat is nothing short of revolutionary - it's from The Jetson's for crying out loud! The problem is that it doesn't work. Apple's most promising feature in iChat AV is intermittent at best. Video chatting with one person is a 50/50 prospect for me. Sometimes I get the person, other times I get "insufficient bandwidth" errors or another telling me that I canceled the connection. With video conferencing my odds get worse.

I know that there are a lot of variables here and that Apple can't be responsible for everyone's NAT and router issues, but if the potential of video chat is going to be realized, Apple needs to stop resting on their laurels and put some lipstick on this pig.

It's a shame that video chat is so flaky because my MacBook Pro has a built-in camera as do the MacBook and the iMac. I wouldn't be surprised if every new Mac and monitor shipped with a built-in iSight camera from here on out since the engineering is already done. Apple needs to re-engineer iChat 4 from the ground up so that it's easier to have reliable video chats - before everyone sells their iSight cameras on eBay.

Do you use iChat AV regularly for video chats and conferences? What's your secret?
Hit the TalkBack button below and, of course, IM me. (My handle is in the comments).

Topic: Apple

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  • After you've commented - IM me!

    Maybe I'm being too tough on Apple, but I've had just about enough iChat AV. What about you? You can IM me at..... powerpage95

    - Jason
    Jason D. O'Grady
    • Re: iChatAV

      My business partner and I work virtually, and we use iChatAV
      several times a week to video conference for up to 30 minutes at
      a time, with very little problems. We occasionally get the "out of
      bandwidth" messages, but that is typically when we are doing
      FTP uploads and such. Once we made sure that kind of thing
      wasn't happening during our conversations, that pretty much
      solved the problem.

      I have an older PowerMac G4 500MHz Dual with an iSight (2MB
      RAM), he uses a PowerBook G4 Titanium 667MHz with an iSight
      (1MB of RAM), and we are based in St. Louis, MO using Charter
      Pipeline (3mbits down, 256k up).
  • iChat and iSight, they both need it...

    It's not enough that we have those issues, in my case it's worse...

    The iSight is not always recognized and this is the second one.
    If the computer goes to sleep, I have to disconnect all FW devises
    before the iSight actually works. When recognized, I sometimes
    only get a black screen. The same goes for the FormacDV, so I
    think it's actually a FW problem. Although I had the same issue
    with a brand new iSight and IntelDuo Macmini. After connecting
    and disconnecting the camera 4+ times, I got the message that
    there was new software available for the iSight, so I installed and
    it then worked. But that was the same case for my G5 and that
    still does not work properly and I can bet that if I connect other
    periferals to the mini, I would probably have the same issues.

    So heres hopeing for light from Apple, cause it's damn dark in
    AV land...
  • iChat AV 3 Problems

    With one daughter away at college and the other living 6 hrs away
    by car, my family jumped on the iChat bandwagon. Three iSight
    cameras later every one could connect (fairly reliably). Then came
    iChat 3. It would's work except for text chatting. Calls to Applecare
    brought claims of fault to routers, ISP's, and firewalls. Months of
    opening ports, complaints to ISP's and attempts with commercial
    firewalls and nothing works. I can connect from local Carl's Jr. so
    some nights my wife and I go for a burger and an iChat.
  • iChat is fine for me

    Everyone in the family has iSights and uses iChatAV3. It's
    invaluable for chatting cross-country. My 3 kids have done
    multiple video chat (I haven't tried yet. About a year ago we had
    some disconnect problems, but that was due to poor DSL signal.
    We are all wireless. The biggest problem was to figure out the
    audio setting so as not to get echo. But using the iSight camera
    (and setting it as the input) corrected that. I find iChat very
    useable. We are all now on G4's so we can multiple chat and use
    Ecamm programs to enhance iChat (to use it on computers that
    theoretically should not be able to cope.
    • iChat works great for me

      I've had chats with multiple persons at once who are located all
      over the world. One person in Belgium, one person in Australia,
      one in Canada and myself. The video and sound quality did not
      match that of Apple's demos but it works. The quality is always
      dependent on the lowest end machine and bandwidth of a
      connecting machine, so there's little that can be done to improve
      the quality of conferences unless everyone uses machines with
      the same power and are on lines with a good amount of
      banswith that goes both ways, especially for the person who is
      hosting the 4-way chat.
  • Hear Hear

    I own an iSight webcam, which I use with my family and friends
    abraod. I had to go through MANY MANY MANY trials and
    tribulations before succeeding connection. It was frustrating and
    very un-apple-like. As a mac user I've grown accustomed to the
    easiness of plug and play mac-style, I guess I'm just spoiled now
    that I expect something like video chat to just work. Hope apple
    attends this problem, cause macs are definitely for video
    conferencing as much as they are for anything else.
  • It works for me every time!

    I use iChat AV and iSight with my family and friends all the time
    and I couldn't live without it as I spend a lot of time on the road.
    We're all using PowerBooks and wireless at home (Extreme) and in
    the hotel (Express) and it is awesome. I just got back from Montr?al
    today and last night I talked to my family. We've left the connection
    going for hours while I work in the hotel room and my wife and I
    check in on each other now again. Thanks Apple!
  • iChat

    My wife and I use iChat once a week to chat with my son and daughter-in-law in Japan. We also get to see our grandson as he grows up (we saw him walk for the first time a few weeks ago, and heard him say his first Japanese word). Since there is a 13 hour difference, they will call us on the phone (or vice-versa) and we connect our cameras. It has worked very well and we are pleased with the connection. The connection from the G3 is not so good so we use the G4 Tower or the iBook G4.
  • I resolved the same troubles

    Having moved to Australia from the UK this year I have used
    iChat to stay in touch with friends and family.

    I had the same issues you describe, loss of connection, not
    seeing buddies, supposed 'cancelled connection' errors.

    Turns out none of this was to do with NAT. By upgrading my
    broadband to the fastest available to me and having a
    replacement router (Siemens 6520, nothing special, a pig to use)
    resolved all of this.

    I personally think that iChat is adversely affected by poor QOS
    on broadband connections, like dropped packets and other
    errors as well as requiring a large amount of upstream

    Once these factors were sorted the connection has operated
    without error, the only limiting factor to quality being other
    peoples bandwidth and G4 processors, which seem to struggle
    compressing the video stream on low quality connections.
  • Works Great for Me

    I love iChat and the iSight. I use it when I travel to talk to my wife
    and daughters as well as my brother in Connecticut, who is a
    Windows luser. I rarely have problems connecting, and only have
    some stuttering of the picture when my poor, old 500 MHz G4 is
    doing some other heavy lifting.
  • iChat AV - anything new?

    Have just found blogs from June 2006 - I too have only had about a 5% success rate with iChat AV (in Europe), and wonder if there has been any new developments
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