iChat AV, AIM updates add Mac to PC video conferencing

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Apple Computer Inc. and America Online Inc. on Thursday announced a new level of compatibility between the companies' instant messaging applications, iChat AV and AIM 5.5 for the PC. With updates released today PC and Mac users will enjoy the benefit of video conferencing between the two platforms. One industry analyst said today that Apple stands to benefit greatly from the relations as it moves out of its niche market.

"With the introduction of iChat AV in Mac OS X Panther and the iSight camera, Apple revolutionized the way people communicate with each other over the Internet," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, in a statement. "Now iChat AV users can video conference with their AOL buddies around the world who use PCs."

Kurt Knight, Internet Product Manager at Apple, told MacCentral today that the ability to video chat with other users, regardless of the platform, was one of the top requested features for iChat AV.

iChat AV, like Safari 1.2 released earlier this week, is available for Panther only -- leaving users of Mac OS X Jaguar or earlier without a way to upgrade to some of the new applications from Apple. Knight didn't say if Jaguar was able to handle the new updates from a technical standpoint, but offered that Apple was "really focused on pushing forward and innovating" on Mac OS X Panther.

Knight explained that Apple and AOL were able to bridge the two online communities by incorporating standards-based technology in their respective software applications. Because the iSight is also a standards-based camera, Knight said that AIM users should be able to use it as their video device if they want to -- he added that Windows users would also need an external microphone or another source of audio if they were using the iSight on a Windows PC, unlike their Mac counterparts.

AOL says it currently supports 50 million active users each month and handles nearly two billion instant messages each day.

"Apple's relationship with AOL is pulling Apple further from its niche position in the market," Tim Deal, Senior Analyst with Technology Business Research, told MacCentral. "Live video instant messaging will grow in popularity and become relatively common over the next few years, and Apple is poised to benefit substantially from its integration with the AIM network."

In moving from its niche markets, Deal draws close comparisons in the Apple/AOL deal to how Apple is using iTunes to drive the iPod.

"The popularity of iTunes drove iPod sales; now Apple is attempting to achieve the same kind of success by providing an enhanced chat capability within the most robust instant messaging network in the market in hopes that this will drive iSight sales," said Deal. "At the very least it will help Apple to showcase its technology in the homes of 50 million AOL users."

iChat AV Public Beta 2.1 is available today from Apple's Web site; AIM 5.5 for Windows-based computers is available today from AOL.

This story, "iChat AV, AIM updates add Mac to PC video conferencing" was originally published by PCWorld.

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