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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 executes on all this stuff really well. Ultimately, though, it's just decorated communication -- fun, but not important.

Here come the apps

The biggest change to iMessage is the introduction this week of third-party iMessage apps. Some of these are pure iMessage apps, and others are extensions from regular iOS apps.

imessage app

Stickers, handwriting and special effects are nice, but the real change comes from iMessage apps, now available in iOS 10.

A quick glance at the featured apps in the iMessage app store shows more fun and frivolity: endless stickers, emoji, GIF options and other ways to add canned personality to regular messages.

A deeper looks uncovers apps that let you do things with iMessage beyond the cheesy, the goofy and the garish.

Secret for iMessage brings the original functionality of Snapchat to iMessage, which is self-destructing messages. As the sender, you can control how long each message, photo or video appears before vanishing, as well as the number of times it can be viewed. You can also revoke messages you've already sent, and the developer, Koder Inc., says there's no log-in and messages are anonymous. Recipients without iMessage can see the self-destructing messages on the web.

Confide for iMessage performs similar tricks. (In general, Secret appears to be aimed at younger people and frivolous uses, and Confide seems aimed at older and professional users.) I told you about Confide for iOS and Android in this space last year. Confide supports texts and pictures. The app provides additional privacy on the recipient's end. The picture or text arrives blurred out and becomes visible only by dragging a finger across the blur. Both users need Confide or it doesn't work.

The social payments company Circle rolled out an iMessage app last week called Circle for iMessage. The app enables you to send money in U.S. dollars, euros, British pounds and bitcoins to other iMessage users without charge. In China, the dominant messaging app, Tencent's WeChat, is heavily used for mobile payments. Users can pay bills, buy things online, send people money and even buy things in brick-and-mortar stores. To use Circle for iMessage, you add information associated with your debit card, so the transfer is from one debit card account to another.

imessage

Apps like Secret, which lets you self-destruct, time-limit or revoke messages, pictures and videos in iMessage, can be used as privacy-enhancing business tools or as replacements for Snapchat.

Another service called Square Cash from Square enables money transfers within the U.S. only, and now via both iMessage and Siri. You can use it to send "gift wrapped" cash gifts (the amount is obscured until the recipient "opens" it).

 

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