Meet the iPhone

The iPhone explored: The Internet on your phone

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Like most phones these days, the iPhone includes an SMS ( Short Message Service ) feature—known as Text—that lets you send and receive text message to other mobile devices. While it’s no iChat, it’s one of the better implementations of SMS I’ve seen on a phone.

Sending and receiving SMS messages To send a message via SMS, tap the Text button on the Home screen, and then tap the New Message button (which, like Mail’s similar button, looks like a box with a pencil). Enter the recipient’s mobile number, or tap the Add Recipient (+) button to choose an existing contact. You can also send an SMS message to someone in your Recents or Favorites list in Phone mode; just tap the > button next to the contact name or number and then tap the Text Message button at the bottom of the contact listing. Type your message and tap Send.

What happens next is what separates the Text program on the iPhone from the basic SMS features of other mobile devices. Instead of taking you back to a main messaging screen, Text opens a screen that looks nearly identical to an iChat window on your Mac. Your message to the recipient, and any subsequent messages you send, appear in iChat-like balloons on the right side; any replies received from that person appear on the left side in balloons of a different color. Above each group of roughly-together-in-time messages is the time that part of the ̴conversation” started. (There’s no way to view the timestamp for a particular message.)

iPhone’s SMS app keeps a record of your text messages using iChat-like balloons.

If someone sends you a URL or a phone number in an SMS message, you can tap on these items to use them immediately: a URL will open the link in Safari, Mail, or Maps, depending on the link type; a phone number will call the number. However, if you tap the small > button next to the message containing the URL or number, you can add the link or number to a new or existing contact, or you can send a new SMS message to the phone number. This is one way of getting around the fact that the iPhone lacks copy/paste functionality.

To send another message, tap in the text field at the bottom of the window; Text keeps your entire SMS conversation with the other person preserved in a single screen you can scroll to browse. This conversation window is preserved over multiple conversations, so you can see any messages to and from a single recipient, even if they’re days, weeks, or even months apart. This approach is much more useful than the each-message-stored-separately SMS functionality of most phones.

At the top of each conversation is a Call button that lets you call the other person—at the number used for SMS—directly from Text. A Contact Info button displays the Contacts record for the person, from which you can make a call to a different number or compose an e-mail. A Clear button clears the contents of the conversation window, preserving the conversation itself. A Messages button exits the conversation and takes you to the main Text window, which lists all your current and saved conversations. You can delete any conversation completely by swiping your finger across the contact name/number and then tapping the Delete button that appears. (As with most other “list” views, you can also tap Edit, tap the delete symbol, and then tap the Delete button.)

Here’s what an incoming message on your iPhone looks like when you’re in an application other than Text.

If you’re in one conversation and messages arrive in a different one, the Messages button at the top of the conversation screen displays the number of unread messages in other chats. (The Text button on the Home screen displays this information, as well.) If you’re doing something else entirely—for example, surfing the Web—a dialog pops up displaying the sender’s name (or number), a preview of the message, and options to ignore or view the message. You can also, via the Sounds screen of Settings, choose whether or not an audible alert sounds when a new SMS message arrives.

As good as Text is—and it’s very good compared to the SMS functionality of most phones—it’s not without some significant drawbacks. For example, you can’t create groups of SMS recipients for sending messages to a group of friends, say, or to several members of your family at once. In fact, you can’t even send a message to multiple recipients; Text allows only a single recipient per message.

The iPhone also doesn’t officially support text messaging with multimedia attachments, otherwise known as MMS (or Multimedia Messaging Service ). Say you take a photo with the iPhone’s built-in camera—if you want to send that image to someone, you’ll have to use Mail, as there’s no way to do that in Text. That goes for audio, video, and rich text—those require MMS support, which is currently lacking in the iPhone

Final thoughts on Text

The Text app is no substitute for iChat, and we hope that’s one of the missing features Apple addresses. Still, despite its limitations, Text is still far ahead of comparable SMS offerings, thanks in larger part to its unique interface.

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