Mac Basics: iChat

Learn how to use iChat to text chat, audio chat, or video chat over the Internet.

This article has been archived and is no longer updated by Apple.

If you're looking for a more personal way to stay in touch, iChat enables you to see and hear your friends, family, and coworkers no matter how far away they are. It lets you text chat, audio chat, or video chat over the Internet without accruing any text messaging, long distance, or video streaming charges. Not only can you chat one-on-one, you can also set up a multiperson chat for work or play.

Tip: You can also use FaceTime to make video calls on your Mac, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch (requires a FaceTime-enabled Mac with an Internet connection or a FaceTime-enabled iOS device with a Wi-Fi connection; not available in all areas).

To use iChat, all you need is access to the Internet and one of the following accounts: iCloud, MobileMe, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), Google Talk, Yahoo, or Jabber. Here's how to set up and use iChat.

First timers, start here

ichat account setup screen

  1. Open iChat from Launchpad, the Dock, or the Applications folder.
  2. Follow the instructions on the screen to configure iChat. If you don't have a account or account yet, open System Preferences and click iCloud preferences. Then click "Create an Apple ID" to sign up for a free one. You can get an account name that ends with This account works within the AIM network so you can use iChat to chat with your AIM buddies.
  3. Once everything's configured, iChat opens and displays the different kinds of iChat buddies. This is where you'll be able to see who is available to chat once you add people. Your account appears at the top; your current status should show you as being "Available." Other iChat and AIM users who've added your account to their lists can view your name and status.
  4. If you want to change your status, click your status and choose a new one from the pop-up menu. You can choose one of the existing status messages such as Away, or choose Custom Available and type your own customized status message.
  5. If your computer has a built-in mic, or you have an external one plugged in, you may also see a green "phone" icon next to your iChat picture, which lets your fellow iChat buddies know that you're available to audio chat. If you have a built-in camera, USB camera, or FireWire camera (such as iSight or DV) connected to your computer, a movie camera icon displays to let your iChat buddies know that you're available to video chat. Visit the iChat Support page for information about iChat system requirements.

Adding a buddy

adding a buddy in ichat
To add a buddy, simply choose the type of account he or she has, and type the account name.

  1. To add someone to your buddy List, choose Buddies > Add Buddy.
  2. From the "Add to" pop-up menu, choose the type of account your buddy uses.
  3. Type the account name. iChat will help by searching through your Address Book. You can also enter your buddy's first and last name.
  4. From the "Add to group" pop-up menu, choose the group you want to add your buddy to.
  5. Click Add. Your new buddy should appear in your buddy list. If he or she is online, a status indicator appears next to the name. If a buddy's name appears dimmed, he or she isn't currently available to chat.

Text chat with a buddy

adding a smiley to your ichat message
To ensure that your words convey a certain emotion, you can pick an emoticon to send along with your message.

  1. To start a text conversation with an available buddy, just double-click on a their name in the buddy list.
  2. A chat window opens. Type a message in the text box at the bottom of the window and press Return to send the message. Your buddy will receive a chat invite. If he or she wishes to chat with you, you'll receive a reply back in your chat window.
  3. You can send a smiley face emoticon with your message: just click the smiley face icon in the bottom-right corner and choose an icon from the pop-up menu. You can also drag or paste images into the text box to send them directly to your buddy.
  4. To end the chat, close the chat window.

Audio chat with a buddy

If you and your buddy have a built-in or external microphone and have it enabled (in the Video menu, make sure that Audio Chat Enabled is checked), you can talk to each other over iChat just like you would on the phone.

  1. To start an audio chat, select your buddy in the buddy list.
  2. Click the phone button at the bottom of the window.
  3. An audio chat window opens on your end, and an invitation gets sent to your buddy (he or she will hear a ringing sound if using iChat). When he or she accepts, your Audio Chat window will show a "connecting" message, and then display a levels meter when you're connected.
  4. To end the chat, close the audio chat window.

Video chat with a buddy

ichat video chat
If you and your buddy have built-in, USB, or FireWire video cameras, you can see and hear each other over a video chat.

If you and your iChat buddy both have a built-in, USB, or FireWire cameras on your computers and have it enabled (in the Video menu, make sure that Video Chat Enabled is checked), you can video chat with each other. For information about Mac supported USB cameras, see supported USB.

  1. To start a video chat, select your buddy in the buddy list.
  2. Click the movie camera button at the bottom of the window.
  3. A video chat window opens on your end and a video chat invitation gets sent to your buddy. When he or she accepts, you'll see his or her face in the video chat window next to yours.
  4. To end the chat, close the video chat window.

You can even transform your video chats using new Photo Booth effects. Add some fun to your video chat with video effects. Add some adventure to your chat with a backdrop. Just chose Show Video Effects from the Video menu to choose an effect and your video changes instantly.

iChat Theater

ichat multiperson chat with video and photo sharing
With iChat Theater, you can put on a photo slideshow, click through a Keynote presentation, or play a movie while your buddy looks on.

  1. From the File menu, choose Share a File with iChat Theater.
  2. Find to the file you would like to share; it can be a QuickTime movie, picture, Keynote document, or any other document that can be opened by Quick Look.
  3. Click Share. Note: You can also select "Share iPhoto with iChat Theater" after navigating to the photo or photo album you would like to share in a photo slide show.
  4. When your see "Invite a buddy to a video chat," highlight the buddies you would like to send the iChat Theater to, then choose Buddies > Invite to Video Chat.
  5. Once the invite is accepted, your buddies will be able to enjoy your content and talk to you about it.
  6. You can scroll up and down through a document or go to the next page. With movies, you can control the volume, click play or pause as well as where in the movie you want to play.
  7. Simply close the Video Chat window to end the session.

Multiperson iChat

multiperson ichat window

  1. Select the buddies that you want to participate in your multiperson chat (hold down the Command key to select more than one buddy).
  2. Click the "A" button at the bottom of the buddy list window to start a text chat, the phone button to start an audio chat, or the movie camera button to start a video chat, and then click Invite.
  3. As your participants accept your invitation, they will be able to send text, talk, or visually interact with everyone who joins.
  4. Anyone can leave the chat at anytime by closing the chat window. The chat continues as long as the person who initiated the multiperson chat keeps his or her chat window open.

Screen sharing

You and your buddy can observe and control a single desktop with iChat, making it easy to collaborate with a colleague, browse the web with a friend, or pick plane seats with your spouse. Share your own desktop or your buddy’s—you both have control at all times. Also, iChat automatically initiates an audio chat when you start a screen sharing session.

  1. Select a buddy you want to share your screen with.
  2. To allow your buddy to observe and control your screen, choose Buddies > Share My Screen... or Choose Buddies > Ask to Share… to have your buddy receive a screen sharing invite.
  3. On the controlled system, once the invite is accepted a screen-wide banner briefly appears. You will also see the iChat status menu bar item alternating to a red screen sharing icon. Tip: Click Text Reply on your invite notifier to cancel the screen sharing invite, but then send a text chat to explain why you declined the invitation.
  4. On the controlling system, once you have control of the other system, your desktop will be minimized into a picture-in-picture frame. Click this frame to roll your desktop to the foreground. Repeat this process as needed to change the screen in the foreground.
  5. To end the screen sharing, press Control-escape, click the red icon in the upper left-hand side of the picture-in-picture window, or choose End Screen Sharing from the iChat status menu bar item.

For troubleshooting multiperson chats, check out iChat: About joining or hosting group video chats.

Tip: Want to learn more about iChat? Check out the built-in iChat Help guide on your Mac (in iChat, choose iChat Help from the Help menu).

Important: Information about products not manufactured by Apple is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute Apple’s recommendation or endorsement. Please contact the vendor for additional information.
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