Instant messaging is a very competitive space. With the rise of WhatsApp, its acquisition by Facebook, increasing demands for security and encryption, and previous powerhouses like MSN Messenger and ICQ disappearing into obscurity, Apple’s answer is iMessage.
The platform is built into every iOS and Mac device, features secure end-to-end encryption, and was a bit of a revolution in free messaging when it arrived on the scene in iOS 5. With the arrival of iOS 10, Messages got the biggest single update since its introduction.
With new features, animations, the ability to send drawings, and a whole message-focused App Store tacked on, there’s plenty to get excited about.
Better Bubbles, Full Screen Animations
iOS 10 includes several new options to give your messages more impact, starting with animated text bubbles.
When you send a regular message you can now choose to provide added emphasis that the recipient will see when they finally get round to reading it. You can also send a full screen animation to accompany your message, which is handy if you’re celebrating a birthday or eager to share some news.
To activate these new features, simply type your message as you normally would, then Force Touch the “up arrow” send button. If you have an older device, you can tap and hold the button instead. This will bring up a screen with two tabs: Bubble and Screen. The full list of Bubble animations is as follows:
- Slam — Your message will “slam” onto the page, as if it were thrown.
- Loud — This one imitates shouting, with emphasis applied to each word in turn.
- Gentle — Your message first starts off almost too small to read, then grows to regular size a bit like a whisper.
- Invisible Ink — A great new privacy feature which pixellates the text and requires the recipient swipe their finger over your message to read it.
On the Screen tab you’ll be able to send full-screen animations which take over the whole conversation when the message is read. You can choose from:
- Balloons — As you’d expect, balloons cover the screen from the bottom to the top.
- Confetti — From the top down, confetti will fall onto the screen.
- Lasers — Disco lasers, not James Bond style lasers.
- Fireworks — Ideal for your “Happy New Year!” texts, I guess.
- Shooting Star — Probably the most interesting effect, a single shooting star flies across screen.
Each effect will allow you to preview before you select it, but remember that users on iOS 9 or below won’t be able to see the effect (worth remembering if you’re relying on Invisible Ink to obscure your message from prying eyes).
Reply With Tapbacks
Save yourself from typing “lol” or searching for a suitable emoji with Tapbacks, which lets you react to certain messages with one of six icons: heart, thumbs up, thumbs down, HaHa, !!, and ?. To reply to a message simply Force Touch (or tap and hold on older devices) and choose a suitable response.
You can change your response by bringing up the Tapback menu again, or remove it completely by choosing the same response. Your recipient will be notified of your Tapback just like you’d sent them a message you typed out yourself. This makes replying in-line even quicker than before.
Stickers & Apps for Messages
Probably in response to a similar Facebook feature, Apple is adding stickers to iOS 10 alongside a fully fledged App Store.
Just like Tapbacks, these stickers can be used to reply directly to photos and messages by dragging and dropping them directly onto the conversation. To access the new features, tap the < icon next to the message box and hit the App Store icon. From here you can choose from your most recently used stickers and apps.
Tap a sticker to send it, or scroll through your available stickers and apps — Apple includes an image search and Apple Music app by default. You can find more by tapping on the “four apps” icon in the bottom left corner and then launching the iMessage App Store. Here you’re able to download apps for use within messages so you can do things like send money via Square Cash, or add new stickers by downloading more packs.
You can rearrange apps in the usual iOS fashion too (by tapping and holding), or delete them like you would any other app. Disable iMessage apps without deleting by launching the iMessage App Store and tapping the Manage tab.
Send Drawings, Annotate Images
New inking tools are also included in iOS 10 — simply turn your device sideways to reveal the canvas (or hit the squiggly-line icon in the bottom-right corner if the feature doesn’t automatically show).
Scrawl your message, then send it, and your recipient will see it play back as you wrote it (or drew it). Messages will save them along the bottom of the interface so you can use them again. To remove one, simply tap and hold, then hit the “X” to delete.
Default landscape view for iOS 10 Messages is handwriting, not keyboard pic.twitter.com/bLdRYb6NQb
&mdasmdash; Jeremy Burge (@jeremyburge) June 15, 2016
You can also annotate your photos using Apple’s Markup tool. Simply select an image using the camera icon, but before sending it, tap on it to preview it. You’ll see the Markup button appear in the bottom-left corner — tap it, draw away to your heart’s content, then hit Done (or Cancel to discard). Nothing you do here will be saved on the original image, just the outgoing image.
Another thing you can do is use the Digital Touch feature previously seen on the Apple Watch to send gimmicky pictures or your heartbeat to other iOS users. You’ll find this option in between the camera and App Store icons — tap it, draw your image (or place two fingers for a heartbeat) then send. You can also send a broken heart by placing your two fingers on the screen and moving in a downwards motion, if you really want to.
Bigger Better Emoji Support
Emoji are automatically three times larger in iOS 10, which is great because they’ve previously been a bit too small to appreciate.
You can send regular old emoji the same way you always have, by tapping the emoji keyboard button and making a selection from the many categories. As you’d expect, there are even more emoji to choose from including the ability to give someone “the finger,” a gay pride flag, and a water pistol replacement for the gun.
More excitingly, you can now “emojify” your messages. Type a message as you would normally, then hit the emoji keyboard button. Words that can be turned into emoji will appear in gold — simply tap them and Messages will replace them with more colorful illustrations. It doesn’t add much functionality to the app, but it’s great fun to play with.
Automatically Expanding Web Content
You won’t need to do anything to enable this feature, as all supported web content will automatically expand within the Messages app. Links sent in a conversation will be replaced with a thumbnail preview, while other content will fully expand like YouTube videos which can be watched with a simple tap. If you want to open the link directly in Safari, just tap on the text at the bottom of the message.
Sending Pictures & Videos
You can still send pictures and videos, it just works a little differently now. You’ll need to hit the < arrow to reveal the camera option, then tap it to preview images you’ve recently saved to your device. To take a picture or record a movie from this interface, you’ll need to scroll left-to-right first to reveal the relevant options.
What Do You Think?
If you and your significant other or friends rely heavily on iMessage, this a worthwhile update and one that’s a lot of fun to play with. The iMessage App Store is an exciting development, and demonstrates how much value Apple is placing on keeping users on the iMessage platform at a time when competitors are desperate for users.
Imaging what could have been had Microsoft developed their once-almighty MSN Messenger rather than letting it stagnate and eventually die.
What do you think of iOS 10’s new iMessage features?