A recent screen shot that surfaced at TUAW gives credence to rumors that Apple is morphing their iChat instant messenging application into a full-blown Voice Over Inter Protocol (VOIP) client.
The version in the shot (iChat 4.0 v454) is presumably a beta from a recent Mac OS 10.5 (Leopard) development build. Whether or not the feature is real or will actually arrive in 10.5 is up for debate. In the screen shot Apple has dropped the "AV" in the name instead reverting back to just "iChat."
The exciting part is a new option in the preferences dialog for "Answering." The options under it allow users to record an outgoing greeting that would play for callers that reached you while you were away from your computer - as weird as that sounds. Think voicemail for iChat. The Answering icon is kind of hokey (as beta icons can be) so the skeptic in me thinks that it could also be a Photoshop job. Keep those expectations in check people!
Apple started down the VOIP path when they added audio and video conferencing to iChat rebranding it as "iChat AV" in June 2003. iChat screen sharing is a new feature promised for Mac OS 10.5 Leopard.
If Apple is moving into VOIP with iChat I hope that the experience is better that it is currently (with iChat AV 3.1.6 v441). I don't know about you, but I can only get a video conference going about about every one in ten tries and even then the video usually dies after less than a minute. And with iSight cameras being built into all MacBooks and iMac I was optimistic that the experience would be better. In fact I switched back to iChat from Adium because of the camera built into my MacBook Pro.
An while we're discussing IM, iChat desperately needs interoperability with Yahoo! and MSN. C'mon Apple!