iMessage will soon be a lot more expressive.
Apple’s Messages app is slated for a massive overhaul in iOS 10. Among the planned features: stickers, doodles, handwritten messages, “invisible ink,” custom animations and support for third-party apps.
SEE ALSO: Hands-on with Apple’s iOS 10 at WWDC
If all that sounds familiar, it’s likely because many of the features are similar to those on Snapchat and Facebook and many other messaging platforms.
Here’s a look at some of the newest features coming to Apple’s Messages app, and how they compare to features offered by Snapchat and others. Note that this is based on an early developer beta version of iOS 10, so it’s likely that there will be some changes between now and the formal release of the mobile operating system this fall.
Still, the changes offer an interesting look at how Apple is planning on overhauling its messaging app and how it sees the future of messaging.
Doodles and animations
Throughout Messages, one of the biggest changes is the addition of a lot more customization features. One way is through animations: you can customize the animations of the chat bubbles themselves or add animated effects that take over the entire screen.
While these animated effects appear to be aimed more at text messages than selfies, you can use them in conjunction with photos and emoji, at which point they start to look pretty similar to Snapchat’s lenses and filters.
You can also “annotate” images you send with doodles, which is a decidedly Snapchat-like feature — though Apple’s UI is much more intuitive than Snapchat’s.
Speaking of doodles, by the way, Messages also lets you send quick doodles via Digital Touch (a feature borrowed from the Apple Watch). These sketches will animate as they appear in the thread, and you can also send your heartbeat and other interactions.
iMessage threads are also getting what Apple calls “quick responses,” which let you add emoji-like reactions to message threads (which happen to look a lot like the reactions used by Facebook and Slack).
Here’s a look at the feature in iMessage (on the bottom left) compared with Facebook (on the right).
Stickers and GIFS
Stickers and GIFs are in just about every other messaging app, so it’s no surprise Apple decided to bring the features to Messages. They work about the way you’d expect in any other iOS app, though we particularly appreciated Apple’s retro-themed OS X stickers.
Disappearing messages vs. “invisible ink”
Many joked that Apple’s “invisible ink” feature — which obscures the contents of your message until the recipient “unlocks” it — was its answer to sexting. But the feature differs from Snapchat’s ephemeral messages in one significant way: the “invisible ink” messages don’t actually disappear from message threads after they’ve been read (though you can go back and delete them later, if you wish).
Even so, it would appear that Apple is trying to take its own approach to ultra-private messaging.
Third-party app support
Perhaps most interestingly (though we haven’t been able to test it ourselves yet), Apple is adding support for third-party apps to Messages. These integrations will allow users to tap into other services from within message threads.
Why is Apple doing this?
At this point, if you’re a longtime iOS user (and even more so if you’re over 30), this all may sound a little wtf. Animated lasers, “invisible” messages and other cutesy emoji-filled features are expected on apps like Facebook Messenger and Snapchat, but not from Apple. (Can you imagine Steve Jobs enthusiastically singing the praises of emoji or selfie doodles during a keynote?)
Can you imagine Steve Jobs enthusiastically singing the praises of emoji or selfie doodles during a keynote?
But while it may be tempting to dismiss Apple’s efforts as simply trying to appeal to its younger users (and, to be clear, it most definitely is), that ignores the larger point: Facebook and Snapchat and Slack and Twitter and just about every other social or messaging app have taught us to expect these kinds of features. And with Google making new messaging apps (that, unlike iMessage, are also cross-platform), Apple could only keep its texting client simple for so long without looking embarrassingly behind the curve.
Whether or not this will work, of course, is another matter. As Facebook has learned, younger users are particularly difficult to please and Apple’s take on “fun” features may not gain traction. But Apple also has the advantage of having the default messaging app on million and millions of iPhones, which is not a bad place to start.