Messages: Why Your Chats Don’t Show Across Devices

With the release of the public beta of Messages for the Mac, it’s easier to follow your online chats when you’re switching between your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac — or at least it should be. Not all of your conversations, however, will appear on all your devices depending on how those chats started, and sorting out what shows up where can be a bit of a headache. Lucky for you The Mac Observer worked through the mess for you.

Confused by Messages? That's no surprise.Messages: More complex that it should be

The fact that Messages for the Mac is beta — meaning it isn’t ready for primetime — won’t stop people from using the app in mission-critical situations, which is exactly why it will leave users baffled when they don’t see chats where they expect. For now we’ll have to hope that the confusion surrounding where messages appear gets sorted out during the beta test phase.

Messages from Your iPhone
Assuming you start a Messages conversation on your iPhone, and you’re chatting with another iPhone user, your messages will appear only on your iPhone even if the chat is routed through Apple’s messaging service instead of your cell carrier’s SMS plan.

You can tell the difference between a Messages conversation and SMS by checking the color of the Send button in your chats. A blue button means you’re chatting through Apple’s service, and a green button means your messages are routing through your cell carrier’s SMS service as regular text messages.

SMS and Messages button examplesA green button means your message is SMS. Blue means Apple’s Messages service.

It looks like the reason for the isolated conversation issue comes down to Messages on the iPhone favoring phone numbers over email addresses for chats with other iPhone users even if you set an email address as your Message Caller ID. Your settings for Message Caller ID are simply ignored when chatting iPhone to iPhone.

Messages from Your iPad or iPod touch
Starting a conversation from your iPad or iPod touch works more like you expect thanks to its reliance on an email address from your Messages Caller ID. Relying on an email address means there’s a higher likelihood your chats appear and update in real time across all your devices.

It doesn’t matter if you start from the email address linked to someone’s Messages account, or their iPhone phone number. Messages will update the conversation on all your devices.

If you start a conversation with someone via their email address, then start a second chat via their iPhone number, Messages will dutifully merge the two together — at least for you. The recipient, however, will still the chat only on their iPhone.

Get it Together
Think starting a Message chat on your Mac, iPad or iPod touch ensures you’ll see the conversation on all your devices? Think again. Messages looks to Address Book to see who an email address belongs to. If the address isn’t associated with a contact, your chats with a specific person won’t merge together if they have different emails set as their Caller ID on their various devices.

If your friends don’t have the email address you’re using for your Messages Caller ID in their Address Book, they may not see your chats in a single thread. Also, setting your iPhone’s Messages Caller ID to the same email address you use on your other devices will help keep multiple chat threads with the same person together when they’re viewing your conversation an iPad, iPod touch or their Mac.

Assuming you have more than one email address linked to Messages, you can take steps to help your friends know when you’re starting a chat by making sure you use the same email address as your Messages Caller ID across all of your devices. Here’s how:

  • On your iOS devices, tap Settings then Messages.
  • Tap Received At.
  • Tap Caller ID.
  • Select the email address you want to use as your Messages Caller ID.

    Setting your caller ID email in iOSSetting your caller ID email in iOS

  • On your Mac, launch Messages.
  • Go to Messages > Preferences.
  • Click the Accounts tab then select your iMessages account.
  • Choose the email address you want to use as your Messages Caller ID from the Caller ID pop-up menu.

Setting your caller ID email in OS XSetting your caller ID email in OS X

Apple’s decision to release a beta version of Messages for the Mac is great because we get a chance to try out the unified messaging system before OS X Mountain Lion ships this summer. The downside is that we’re using beta software and there are a few kinks that still need to be worked out. Apple has a few months to work through those issues before springing Mountain Lion on us.

[Some images courtesy of Shutterstock]