IM Wars: AIM for iPhone grows up, gets paid version

aim2While there may still be a lot of confusion surrounding the future of AOL, that didn’t stop the folks in Northern Virginia from recently overhauling their popular AIM instant messaging app for iPhone (and iPod touch).

Available in two tasty flavors, free (“AIM Free”) and paid (“AIM Paid”), AIM 2.0 for iPhone now provides SMS notifications, has location-aware services, and supports multiple accounts (among other updates). It appears as though all of the application updates have been included in both the free and paid versions, with the major (and obvious) difference being the inclusion of ads in the buddy list of the AIM Free app.

So, what’s the big deal here? What do all the changes mean? Well, for one thing, now when you first sign in, the app will ask you if you want to share your current location:

Want to see where your friends are hanging out? You can share your location with your Buddies (or everyone) and see Buddies who are sharing their location.

Users are given three options: 1. No, don’t share location (default); 2. Share only with people on my Buddy list; or 3. Share with everyone. Once you’ve made your selection (let’s say we pick option 2 or 3), a new Group will be added – “Near Me” – showing other contacts within your vicinity.  As Ars Technica points out, “there is no control over how large one’s nearby radius is” and thus, it is not exactly clear how near or far any of your contacts may be from your current location. What you can control, is the frequency of your location updates by navigating to: My Info > Preferences > (scroll down) Frequency.  Here, you can select between 3 options: 1. On Startup; 2. Every 5 min. (default); or 3. Every 2000 feet.

aim2cBeyond location-awareness, AIM 2.0 also features SMS capabilities. Users now have the option to send an IM to a screen name, or alternatively, can send an SMS to a contact’s phone number (works on both iPhone and iPod touch). The app now includes both a buddy list and a contact list, to take advantage of these new features. Also, you can now stay logged-in for up to 24 hours, even if the AIM app has been closed.  This allows you (iPhone users only) to get notifications via SMS when you receive a new IM and offers a work-around until Apple enables real Push notifications.

Other notable new features include the ability to use photos (taken with an iPhone) as buddy icons and the option to configure/switch between multiple screen names at any time. Are these new features enough to take down competing IM apps such as IM+, Fring, Truphone, and others? Only time will tell.

AIM Free (2.0.1) is currently available for download (via iTunes), while the cleverly named (but as yet unpriced) AIM Paid is still pending approval (at the time of this writing).