Everything You Need to Know About Messages, the iPhone 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 texts, you can send photos, videos, animations, stickers, music, and more. Apple's text messaging platform is called Messages and it's built into every iOS device and every Mac.

Sending texts with Messages is easy and free, but unlocking all of its features requires more knowledge. The topic can get confusing when you discover that there is also something called iMessage built into Messages. 

Read on to learn how iMessage is different from Messages, what it offers, and for answers to some of the most common questions about Messages.

Messages vs. iMessage

How Is iMessage Different from the Messages App?

Messages is the texting app that comes pre-loaded with the iOS on any iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. It lets you do all the basic things you'd expect: send texts, photos, etc.

On the other hand, iMessage is an Apple-specific set of features and tools that are built on top of Messages. It's iMessage that provides all of the cool, advanced features used in Messages. You can use other apps to send texts from your iPhone, but if you want to use all of iMessage's features, you have to use the Messages app. 

How Do You Get iMessage?

You've already got it. It's built into every version of the Messages app starting in iOS 5.

Do You Need to Enable iMessage?

You shouldn't. The iMessage features are enabled by default, but it is possible to turn iMessage 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 iMessage Mean I Can't Text People Who Don't Have iPhones?

The Messages app lets you text anyone whose phone or other 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. Any iMessage-specific things you send, like animations, 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 text was sent using iMessage:

  1. Your word balloons are blue
  2. The Send button is blue
  3. The text-entry box reads iMessage before you've typed in it. 

Depending on the recipient's Read Receipt settings, some iMessages will also say Delivered beneath them. 

On the other hand, traditional SMS messages sent to non-Apple devices have:

  1. Green word balloons
  2. The Send button is green
  3. 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. It's an Apple-only platform. There have been some rumors about iMessage coming to Android. Given that messaging platforms are a big trend right now, it seems possible that iMessage will arrive on Android at some point. On the other hand, if all of the cool features of iMessage are exclusive to Apple products, that could cause people to buy iPhones instead of Android phones.


Features of Messages and iMessage

What Multimedia Can Be Sent Using Messages?

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

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

Can You Use Messages 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 Messages 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 Do Messages and iMessage Offer?

The basic Messages app doesn't have much in the way of security features. Because those texts are sent over phone company cellular networks, they have only whatever security is offered by the phone company. 

Because iMessages are sent through Apple's servers instead of your phone company's, iMessage is very secure. It offers end-to-end encryption, meaning that every step of sending messages—from your device, to Apple's servers, to the recipient's device—is encrypted and secure. The security is so strong, in fact, that not even Apple can break it. To learn about an interesting case of a real-world effect of this security, read Apple and the FBI: What's Happening and Why It's Important

Bottom line: When you send something via iMessage, you can be sure that no one will intercept and read your messages.

Does Messages Use Read Receipts?

Read Receipts are only available when using iMessage. 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 Messages

Does iMessage Support Emoji?

Yes. Emoji are included by default in the iOS and can be used in Messages (learn How to Add Emoji to iPhone).

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

Does Messages Include Snapchat-Style Expiring Messages?

Yes. When using iMessage, you can send audio messages that expire after 2 minutes. To control that setting:

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

What Other Fun Options Does Messages Offer?

When you're using iMessage in iOS 10 or higher, iMessage has a ton of fun 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.

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. Given the name, it should be no surprise that these apps only work when you have iMessage enabled.

A good example of an iMessage app is the Square app, which lets you 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. For step-by-step instructions, check out How to Get iMessage Apps and Stickers for iPhone.

Is There Support For Apple Pay in iMessage?

In iOS 11 there is. With it, you can pay people directly just by writing a message that requests money or mentions sending it. A tool pops up to specify the amount. Tap send and you'll be asked to verify the payment using Touch ID. When that's done, money is sent from the payment account linked to your Apple Pay to the other person. This is great for splitting restaurant checks, paying rent, and other times when you need to pay a person, not a company.