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Apple surprised iPhone carriers with iMessage


During yesterday’s keynote address at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple made a wide range of big announcements that have the mobile industry churning. One of the most significant new features to the next-generation iOS 5 mobile software unveiled during WWDC is the addition of iMessage, an iOS-to-iOS-only messaging system that more or less mimics the long-lauded Blackberry Messenger.

Apparently the public wasn’t the only group to hear about iMessage for the first time yesterday. According to Daring Fireball‘s John Gruber, carriers of the iPhone learned of iMessage at exactly the same time as the rest of us.

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iMessage allows anyone with an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to send text, video and picture messages to each other through Apple’s internal network, over Wi-Fi or 3G. This bypasses the carrier’s texting services, and stands as a major threat to this (highly overpriced) segment of their business. So if, say, most of the people you know own an iPhone, you might be inclined to drop your texting plan altogether, and opt instead for the entirely free (but limiting) iMessage.

Some speculate that iPhone carriers AT&T and Verizon may block iMessage, just as AT&T did with iPhone tethering, which took two years to come to market after Apple’s initial introduction of the feature in 2009. But considering a wide array of third-party IM and SMS apps already exists for the iPhone — as well as the nearly identical BlackBerry Messenger — it seems unlikely that wireless providers feel particularly threatened by these types of services.

One entity that may be pained by the iMessage announcement: BlackBerry maker Research In Motion. A primary selling point for BlackBerry has been its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), a highly popular feature among BlackBerry enthusiasts. According to market analysts, RIM could take a hit due to the introduction of iMessenger.

“While Apple lacks RIM’s NOC/node infrastructure that allows for BBMing without a data plan with some carriers, iMessage otherwise is a direct competitor,” said Jefferies analyst Peter Misek, who spoke with the International Business Times. “The launch of a low-cost iPhone in the Fall targeted at prepaid and emerging markets will only further undermine RIM.”

Oh, right, the low-cost iPhone coming this Fall for prepaid and emerging markets… Wait, what?!