All About iMessage, Apple's Free Texting App

Answers to common questions about Apple's free text messaging platform

iMessage in iOS 10
image credit: Apple Inc.

Text messaging apps are the most-used apps on smartphones worldwide—and they're getting more powerful all the time. And no wonder: besides text, you can send photos, videos, animations, stickers, music, and more. Apple's text messaging platform is called iMessage and it's built into every iOS device. 

Sending texts with iMessage is easy and free, but unlocking all of its features requires more knowledge.

Read on for answers to some of the most common iMessage questions.

iMessage Basics

How Is iMessage Different from the Messages App?

Messages are the texting app that comes pre-loaded with the iOS on any iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. iMessage the foundation that Messages is built on and that provides all of its advanced features. You can use other apps to send texts from your iPhone, but if you want to use iMessage, you have to use the Messages app. 

How Do You Get iMessage?

If you're running iOS 5 or higher, you don't need to do anything—you've already got it! It's built into the Messages app. Just tap the green app icon with the word balloon in it and you're ready to go.

Do You Need to Enable iMessage?

iMessage is enabled by default, but it is possible to turn it off. To do this:

  1. Tap Settings 
  2. Tap Messages
  3. Move the iMessage slider to Off/white.

Do You Have to Have an iPhone To Use iMessage?

No. iMessage works on all devices that run iOS 5 and higher, including the iPod touch and iPad.

It's also built into the Messages app that comes with all Macs running Mac OS X 10.7 or higher.  

Does This Mean I Can't Text People Who Don't Have iPhones?

No. The Messages app lets you text anyone whose phone or another device can receive standard text messages. If those people don't have iMessage, though, they won't be able to use any of iMessage's features and any iMessage-specific things you send, like animations, they won't work on their devices.

How Can You Tell When You're Sending an iMessage Rather Than an SMS?

In the Messages app, there are three ways you can know a message was sent using iMessage. Your word balloons are blue, the Send button is blue, and the text-entry box reads iMessage before you've typed in it. Depending on Read Receipt settings, some iMessages will also say Delivered beneath them. On the other hand, traditional SMS messages have green word balloons, the Send button is green, and the text-entry area says Text Message in it. 

What Does iMessage Cost?

Nothing. Sending an iMessage to another iMessage user is free. Traditional text messages still cost whatever your phone plan charges (though texts are free with most plans these days). 

Does iMessage Work on Android or Other Platforms?

No. As of this writing, it's an Apple-only platform. There have been plentiful rumors recently of iMessage coming to Android. Given that messaging platforms are a big trend right now, it's a safe bet that iMessage will arrive on Android sooner than later. Whether it comes to any other platforms is less certain.

RELATED: Fix the iMessage Android Bug With This Free Tool

Basic iMessage Features

What Multimedia Can Be Sent Using iMessage?

All the kinds of multimedia that can be sent with regular SMS messages can be sent using iMessage: photos, videos, and audio.

In iOS 10 and up, there are some additional features that make sending media through iMessage even more useful. For instance, if you send a video or a link to YouTube, the recipient can watch the video inline right in iMessage without going out to another app. Links open in iMessage rather than Safari. If you send an Apple Music song, the recipient can stream the song right in iMessage.

RELATED: 10 Fantastic Features of iOS 10

Can You Use iMessage on Multiple Devices?

Yes. One major benefit of iMessage is that all of your compatible devices are synced, so you can continue conversations across devices.

To do this, you can't use your iPhone's phone number as your iMessage address. That won't work because the iPod touch and iPad don't have phones in them and aren't connected to your phone number. Instead, use both your phone number and an email address. To control this:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap Messages
  3. Tap Send & Receive
  4. Make sure all of your devices have the same email address listed and checked here (it may be easiest to use your Apple ID).

What Kind of Security Does iMessage Offer?

iMessage is very secure. It offers end-to-end encryption, meaning that every step of sending messages—your device, Apple's servers, the recipient's device—is encrypted and secure. The security is so strong, in fact, that not even Apple can break it. So, when you send something via iMessage, you can be sure that no one will intercept and read your messages.

RELATED: Apple and the FBI: What's Happening and Why It's Important

Does iMessage Use Read Receipts?

Yes. Read Receipts tell you whether someone has read your iMessage or let others know you've read theirs. To send Read Receipts to other people when you've read their messages:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap Messages
  3. Move the Send Read Receipts slider to On/green


Fun with iMessage

Does iMessage Support Emoji?

Yes. Emoji are included by default in the iOS and can be used in iMessage.

A few new features related to emoji are introduced in iOS 10. For one, the emoji are three times bigger and easier to see. Additionally, iMessage suggests the words that can be replaced with emoji to allow you to make your messages more fun.

RELATED: How to Add Emoji to iPhone

Does iMessage Include Snapchat-Style Expiring Messages?

Yes. You can send both audio and video messages that expire after 2 minutes. To control that setting:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap Messages
  3. Tap Expire in Audio Messages or Video Messages.

What Other Fun Options Does iMessage Offer?

In iOS 10, iMessages adds a ton of fun new features. These include pretty standard chat-app tools like stickers that can be added to messages and that ability to draw on photos before you send them. It also includes more advanced things like the ability to use handwriting in your messages and bubble effects. Bubble effects are cool animations that you can apply to your messages to give them more oomph. They include things like making the bubble pop, animating it so your message is emphasized, or even using "invisible ink" that requires the recipient to tap the message to reveal its content.

iMessage Apps 

What Are iMessage Apps?

Think of iMessage apps as being like iPhone apps. In the same way that you install apps on your iPhone to add new functionality, iMessage apps do the same thing, but just add the functionality to iMessage. So, for instance, you might add the Square app and then be able to use iMessage to send money to people you chat with via iMessage. Or you could do a group chat with friends to collect lunch orders and then submit a single group order to a food delivery service. These apps are only available in iOS 10 and up.

How Do I Get iMessage Apps?

If you're running iOS 10 or newer, there's an app store for them built into iMessage. Just swipe up the drawer at the bottom of the app and you'll be able to find new iMessage apps to install.