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Apple's iMessage finally grows up

Mike Elgan | Sept. 19, 2016
Apple's iMessage service will have a much bigger impact than you think. It's all about the App Store.

Apple is finally taking on Snapchat, WeChat and Slack.

Wait, what?

When iOS 10 appeared on Tuesday, it featured a long list of enhancements. The biggest news is the transformation of Apple's messaging service, iMessage, into a full-fledged, modern messaging platform.

As with so many things, Apple is an exception to industry norms. The new iMessage will become far more than just another messaging service. It changes everything.

(Note that iMessage is the service based on Apple's proprietary Apple Push Notification Service protocol and should not be confused with Apple's iOS or OS X messaging app, which is called Messages. The Messages app supports iMessages and standard SMS or MMS service. )

Don't be distracted by the fun, playful and goofy stuff, of which there is plenty and over which the press is obsessing.

The new iMessage has effects that can take over the screen with fireworks, lasers, confetti, balloons or shooting stars. Other effects can make dialog bubbles "loud" (large), "gentle" (small) or "slam."

An "invisible ink" feature keeps your words and pictures invisible until the recipient swipes a finger across the screen.

Some effects are automatic. When you type "happy birthday," balloons rise across the screen. When you say "congratulations," the full screen rains confetti.

If you double-tap on any part of a conversation, you can add thumbs up or down or other quick responses, which are affixed to that part of the message. So if someone sends you a confusing photo, you can double-tap on the photo and choose the question mark icon, which is placed near the upper right corner of the photo.

The new iMessage also borrows from the Apple Watch. A feature called Digital Touch lets you send sketches scribbled with a finger, as well as vibration taps and heartbeats (using an Apple Watch or other sensor).

You can also do handwriting. When you're on an iPhone, simply turning the phone to horizontal mode enables a full-screen writing mode. The scribbling feature looks even better on an iPad, with its larger screen. It feels a bit like using an Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro -- the lines are thick or thin as you draw based on the speed of your finger's movement across the screen.

When you paste a link into a message, pictures and elements from the page you linked to appear in a box (similar to what Facebook does when you add links to comments). If you link to a YouTube or Vine video, the video appears in the message and can be played in place.

Emojis do more in the new iMessage, too. When you send three or fewer emoji without any text in the same line, they appear three times the size. After you've typed a message, you can tap the emoji button on the keyboard and the easily emojified words appear in orange. By tapping on each of those words, you get emoji options for instantly replacing the words with emoji.


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