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August 12, 2017

How to use Apple’s iMessage on iOS 10

by John_A

With the release of iOS 10, Apple completely revamped its iMessage platform, transforming it from a simple SMS replacement to a feature-packed messaging experience. Not only is iMessage getting much more secure with the upcoming iOS 11 update, but you’ll even be able to use it to chat directly with businesses.

We love it, and we’re sure you do as well, but are you aware of all the little features it contains, and how to access them? Maybe not, because although Apple is usually good at making its software rather easy to use, iMessage makes use of new techniques that may not be familiar. Whether you’re an iOS newbie or a seasoned veteran, here’s how to get the most from iMessage on your iPhone.

Getting started with iMessage

Does it work on my phone?

To use the new iMessage platform, you need to have iOS 10 installed on your phone, and so do the people you’re messaging. It’s worth mentioning, for those completely unfamiliar with iMessage, that it’s purely Apple-to-Apple, and you can’t send an iMessage to an Android phone (or vice versa).

You can send iMessages to iPhones, iPads, iPods, and MacOS installed on laptops and desktop computers, provided you’re signed in to the same iCloud account on all devices. There are a few settings to enable on each device to make this happen. It’s also easy to know whether you’re exchanging iMessages with someone, given the chat balloons are blue instead of the green that denotes SMS messages.

Enabling iMessage

On your iOS device, ensure iMessage is activated by checking the following:

Go to Settings, and scroll down to Messages. The iMessage slider should be in the On position. One other important thing to note is that if you have Reduce Motion turned on, then the animations won’t work. Go to Settings, General, and Accessibility to turn the feature off if they’re not working.

In MacOS, find the Messages icon in the Dock, open it, and open Accounts from the Messages menu in the top-left portion of the screen. Here, enter your associated Apple ID and password, then click Sign In. Your messages and contacts should then sync. The difference between the two is that not all of iOS 10’s super effects, apps, and GIFs show up on your Mac, nor can they be sent out via your computer.

Use iMessage on your iPhone

Sending and receiving iMessages is no different than sending and receiving SMS message, and it’s all done through the default Messages app installed on iOS. If you’ve used iMessage before and this is your first time using the latest version, you’ll notice some changes. The most obvious are the three icons in the bottom left of the screen which is the gateway to most of iMessage’s new features.

Text effects

We’ll dig into iMessage’s cool features in a moment — let’s deal with sending messages first. To send a message, simply enter what you want to say into the text field in iMessage and tap the blue arrow to send it. If you want to add effects to what you’re sending, perform a Force Touch gesture on the blue arrow before you send your message. You do this by pressing down hard on the blue arrow to bring up the Send with effect menu.

The first of two menu screens will appear, giving you the chance to add a new effect to your message. Slam, Loud, Gentle, and Invisible Ink all see your words accompanied by the corresponding effect, which gives them more impact and allows you to convey an emotion. Just tap which one you want to apply the effect and send your message.

If none of the aforementioned text effects seem appealing, tap the Screen option and select a screen effect. You can use balloons, fireworks, lasers, confetti, or a shooting star to alter the look of the screen when the message arrives. If none of these are suitable, just tap “X” to return to the standard message view.


Reactions are another fun feature. Rather than add an emoji after a message comes through, how about adding your reaction to the message itself? Say you get a message you agree with, and you want to give it the thumbs up. Long press the message, and a series of reactions will appear. These include a heart, a thumbs up or down, an exclamation point, a question mark, and a “Haha.” Simply tap the appropriate reaction to affix it to the message balloon.

Handy iMessage tips

Stickers, emoji, and apps

All the usual emoji are available in iMessage through your keyboard of choice, whether it’s Apple’s proprietary offering or an alternative. However, the new iMessage offers a wealth of additional stickers and emoji, all of which are available through the feature’s app store. Yep, iMessage has its own, dedicated store for compatible apps. Here’s how to use it.

Select the App Store icon from the three icons to the left of the text field  — it’s the third to the right. This will open a new window in place of the keyboard, and once visible, tap the four circles in the bottom left to open the menu. Then, choose Store.

All the iMessage-compatible apps are found here, including the ones already installed on your phone. Visit the Manage category along the top of the screen to activate or deactivate apps that have an iMessage function. Otherwise, just select and install your iMessage app of choice in the same way you would any other app from the iTunes App Store.

If you don’t know where to start, check out our list of the best iMessage apps, games, and stickers.

When finished, just tap Done in the top right of your display. This will bring up the menu screen in place of the keyboard, and it’s here that you’ll be able to select the apps and stickers that you’ve installed. If the screen gets overrun with apps, delete them in the same way you would elsewhere in iOS — that is, by tapping and holding, then tapping “X” when they start to jiggle.

GIFs and pictures

In addition to the emoji and stickers, you can also add images and GIFs to your iMessage conversation. Tap the App Store button next to the text field, and then the menu button in the bottom-left corner (it’s shaped like four circles). Then, tap Images and use the search bar to find the right GIF for you.

Alternatively, if you have installed Giphy on your phone, it has an extension for iMessage. Provided the extension is activated under the management section in the iMessage App Store, select that instead of Images on the main screen to see a host of other choices.

Sharing your own pictures, either live or from your Camera Roll, is easy too. From the main message screen, tap the camera icon — the furthest option on the left, next to the text field — and you’ll be given the option to choose your own picture, or capture one using a small viewfinder. Snap away, and send it in your message.

Play Apple Music

This one is primarily for Apple Music subscribers. In the app menu, the Music option lets you share songs you’ve recently listened to with someone else. However, if you don’t subscribe to Apple Music, you can only hear a preview of the song in question. Additionally, this only includes music you’ve downloaded from iTunes.

Digital Touch

One of the coolest features on the Apple Watch recently came to iMessage, and it operates in a similar way. The tiny screen found on the Apple Watch is replicated on the iPhone, so you can send your heart beat, an animated picture, or even draw and send cool effects to your friends.

Digital Touch, accessible by tapping the center button to the left of the text field, allows for a slew of gestures. To draw a sketch, move your finger around the input area, or to send taps, just tap the screen. To change colors, use the circular button to the left, located directly above the camera icon.

You can send a heart beat by holding down the display with two fingers, or a kiss by tapping your display with two fingers. You can also send a broken heart if you drag down the screen with two fingers, or a colorful fireball if you tap and hold your display with one finger.

To send a picture or video, complete with sketches, select the camera icon on the left and tap the record video or shutter release icon. Videos last for 10 seconds, and you can add your sketches once you’ve taken your shot. Afterward, simply tap the blue arrow to send your message.

Shortcuts and handy hints

  • All digital media shared in iMessage — i.e. videos, pictures, or Digital Touch images — will disappear after two minutes, but there is a way to keep them. Just remember to tap the Keep icon next to the image before they’re gone forever.
  • When the menu screen replaces the keyboard, you can scroll through your apps by swiping left or right. It’s handy to know because the menu screen opens on the first app in your list. Scrolling saves you the from having to open the app menu again.
  • Sketching anything on a small screen is a challenge. If you tap the arrow icon in the bottom-right of the screen while sketching, however, you can open the window in full-screen mode. This makes it much easier to create a masterpiece.
  • To bring up the keyboard at any time, just tap in the text field.
  • Just like the old message app, you can record audio clips and send them instead of text. To do so, tap the microphone icon to the far right of the text field and hold it down to record.

Update: We’ve rephrased some of the steps for clarity and added a few links to let you know about the upcoming iOS 11 iMessage updates.

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