The stock Messages app in iOS 7 has undergone significant improvements over the years, and the latest version that ships with iOS 7 is the deepest and most feature-complete version of Messages yet. The Messages app is home to both traditional SMS messages, and Apple’s very own iMessage technology for intercommunication with other Apple devices like iPads, iPods, and even Macs.
iMessage is one of the best ways to stay in touch with friends, family, and work colleagues. In fact, here at iDB, it’s the go to app for keeping in touch with fellow staffers. Since every installation of iOS 7 comes bundled with a fully functional iMessage app, there’s simply no better way to stay in touch with the people you know. In this in-depth tutorial, we’ll cover some of the basic concepts of the stock Messages app, plus we’ll share handy tips, and break down the app’s settings. We encourage you to sound off in the comments at the end of this guide with your own tips, suggestions, and thoughts…
Please check out the table of contents below for each section pertaining to the features found in Messages for iOS 7.
Table of contents
- What is the Messages app?
- What is SMS?
- What is iMessage?
- iMessage addresses
- How to compose a new message
- How to embed media into a message
- Viewing, saving and forwarding photos
- Anatomy of a conversation
- Deleting and forwarding individual messages
- Using the Contact button
- Message threads
- Group messages
- Replying to messages
- Enabling and disabling iMessage
- Sending Read Receipts
- Send as SMS
- Send & Receive addresses
- MMS Messaging
- Group Messaging
- Show Subject Field
- Character Count
- Blocked users
The Messages app is a stock iOS application that is included with all iOS devices. The Messages app can be used to send simple text messages, photos, videos, links and emoji to recipients. Messages sent via the Messages app can be traditional SMS messages, which work over cellular phone networks, or iMessages, which can work via cellular or Wi-Fi. You can think of the Messages app as a supercharged way to text message your friends.
SMS stands for Short Message Service, and it’s the traditional text service that uses standardized protocols to send short messages between cellular devices. Virtually any modern phone can do text messaging out of the box, even so-called dumb phones that are not capable of connecting to Wi-Fi networks.
The only iOS devices that are capable of sending SMS traditional text messages are iPhones. iPods touches, and iPads can send Messages, but they are of the iMessage variety, and don’t qualify as traditional SMS text messages.
You can tell when a traditional SMS text message conversation is taking place by looking at the message bubbles in a message thread. If the bubbles containing your conversation are green, then the conversation is taking place via SMS.
iMessage is denoted by blue outgoing chat bubbles while SMS is green
In the past, cellular providers made a lot of money off of text messaging, and some would even charge a price like $0.20 per text message. Nowadays, most wireless agreements bundle in an allotment of text messages, or provide the user with unlimited text messaging for a flat fee.
With the advent of the modern-day smartphone, SMS popularity has begun to dwindle significantly, especially among iPhone users. This is in part because of SMS replacement services like iMessage.
iMessage is a service built by Apple as a means to replace, or at least supplement, traditional SMS messaging. Each iOS device, whether it be the iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, is capable of sending and receiving iMessages. iMessage is a service that can only be used to communicate with other iOS users, so an Android or Windows Phone user won’t be able to communicate with an iOS user via iMessage.
Unlike SMS messages, iMessage doesn’t require you to be connected to a cellular network. For that reason, iMessage works fine on non-cellular enabled devices like the iPod touch and iPad. We’d also like to emphasize the fact that iPhone users, and users with cellular enabled iPads, can use iMessage over both cellular and Wi-Fi connections.
Traditional SMS can be relatively slow
iMessage has many benefits over traditional SMS messaging. Unlike traditional SMS, there are no fees or limits associated with iMessages. Another great benefit of iMessage is that it’s must faster than traditional SMS messaging, which means you can send videos and photos in a more timely manner.
iMessage is much faster than traditional SMS
But the benefits don’t stop there. Using iMessage means that you can access your messages on any device configured to use iMessage. It also means that you can get delivery confirmation, receive read receipts, and see when a recipient is in the process of typing a reply. None of those things are possible with traditional SMS.
One of the coolest iMessage features; seeing when someone is typing a reply
You’ll be asked to Allow read receipts when first using iMessage
Read receipts can give you peace of mind
In this ultimate overview of the stock Messages app, most of the content will focus on iMessages, which are easily identified by their blue chat bubbles. Of course, where appropriate, we will identify when we’re talking about SMS messages as opposed to iMessages, but in most cases you should expect that iMessage is the protocol of choice.
An iMessage address can be a phone number (if you have an activated iPhone associated with your Apple ID) or an email address that is associated with your Apple ID. For those of you who just have an iPod touch or an iPad, your iMessage address can only be an email address.
It’s important to know that you can have multiple addresses assigned to the same Apple ID and iMessage account. For example, I can have a phone number 555-555-5555 and an email address firstname.lastname@example.org assigned to the same Apple ID. I am thus able to receive iMessages to all of my devices using any of the addresses or phone numbers associated with my Apple ID.
This means that when someone sends an iMessage to my phone number, I can receive that iMessage on my iPod touch or iPad, even though it’s not a cellular device. Don’t think of a phone number associated with an iMessage account as a traditional number, think of it as merely another address used to contact a person.
To compose a new message, open the stock Messages app and tap the compose button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. The New Message window should open, and your cursor should be placed in the To: field.
Composing a new message using the compose button
If you know the contact details of the recipient (i.e. phone number or email address) you can type it directly in the To: field. If you have contacts stored in the stock Contacts app, you should receive suggestions based on the information you type in the To: field. You can tap on any of the suggested contacts in order to add them as a recipient. Contacts that show up in green are traditional SMS message contacts. Contacts that show up in blue are iMessage capable contacts.
iMessage contacts are denoted by blue colored font
If you’d instead prefer to look in your address book for a specific contact, you can tap the ‘+’ button to the right of the To: field to open the All Contacts window. This window will allow you to search your contacts, and drill down using specific groups if desired. From the Contacts window, you can specify the type of address you want to add from a contact, if they have multiple phone numbers, email address, etc.
Non iMessage contacts, denoted by green, are sent via SMS
It’s possible to add multiple contacts to a message in order to send a group message. If all of the recipients in your group message are iMessage users, then the group message will be sent out as an iMessage. Group iMessages have all of the benefits of one-on-one iMessages, including the ability to see delivery reports, when someone’s typing, etc.
New Group iMessage
If your group message contains a contact that isn’t capable of receiving an iMessage, say they’re an Android user, then the entire group message will default to a standard SMS group message, with all of the downsides of traditional SMS messaging. You’ll notice the iMessage recipient’s names turn green when addicting a non-iMessage recipient to a group thread.
Group messages with SMS contacts default to group MMS
The composition field will state the name of the protocol that will be used to send the message. If your contacts are all iMessage users, you’ll see “iMessage” in the composition field. If there is an SMS recipient, the composition box will read “Text Message” as a means to alert you.
Text Message vs iMessage composition fields
Once you have your contacts lined up, you can tap on the text entry field to compose your message. After you finish composing the message, you’ll need to press the Send button to the right of the composition field in order to send your message.
Composing and sending a new group iMessage
When sending messages via the stock Messages app, the sender’s messages are always displayed on the right side of the screen in a dark color (green or blue based on message type).
Outgoing messages appear on the right-hand side of the conversation
There are several ways to embed photos or video into an outgoing message. The easiest way to do this is by using the media attachment button while composing a message. This button, which is located to the left of the composition field, allows you to quickly attach an existing photo or video, or take a new photo or video.
Embedding media using the media attachment button
iMessage doesn’t place arbitrary limits on the amount of photos or videos you can embed into a single outgoing message. With SMS messaging, any photo or video will rely on MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), which extends the functionality of traditional SMS messaging.
Sending media via MMS is much slower than using iMessage and quality degradations arise as well, In general, it is much preferred to send media via iMessage if at all possible.
Another way to send media via Messages is to use the system-wide sharing features embedded in a good majority of apps. The stock Photos app features the ability to attach photos directly to an outgoing message using the built-in share button.
Sharing media via Messages using the share button
The Messages app allows you to view photos within a conversation by tapping on an individual photo. You can also view all photos sent to you within a conversation by swiping between photos. If there are a lot of photos featured within a conversation, it might be more convenient to tap the button in the bottom right-hand corner of the Messages app to view photos in a list view.
Viewing multiple photos contained within a conversation
To save a photo, tap the share button located in the bottom left-hand corner while viewing a photo, and then tap the Save Image button. You can also do other things from the sharing panel, like open in other apps, assign the photo to a contact, copy, or print.
Saving photos using the share button
Forwarding photos is possible using the More… option when tapping and holding on a photo or message conversation bubble. Many photos can be forwarded at once by selecting multiple images.
Forwarding multiple photos
Each conversation receives its own individual thread containing a time ordered list of the conversation. The bottom of a conversation contains the most recent message exchanged between parties. The top of the conversation contains the oldest messages.
When a conversation reaches a certain length, the older messages are removed in order to keep conversations concise and fast-loading. You can still access earlier messages in the conversation by scrolling to the top and tapping the “Load Earlier Messages” button. This will load up the previous 50 or so messages. You can continue tapping the “Load Earlier Messages” button until you reach the beginning of the conversation.
Loading earlier messages in a conversation
The sender’s messages are always displayed in dark colors (blue for iMessage, green for SMS) on the right-most side of the screen. Sender’s messages are shown in light grey bubbles on the left side of the screen.
Once there is a significant time gap between a group of messages contained within a conversation, a time and/or date stamp will be placed above the next message in order to provide context. For those of you who want to gain greater context, you may swipe the conversation screen from right to left to view detailed time stamps for each individual message contained in a conversation.
Swipe and hold from right to left to view conversation time stamps
It is possible to prune messages contained within a conversation from either the sender, the receiver, or both. It’s not readily apparent, but if you tap and hold on any of the chat bubbles within a conversation, you’ll see a pop-up dialogue that says Copy | More… Tapping the More… button will reveal a method for pruning and forwarding individual messages. Copy, obviously, allows you to copy individual messages.
Invoking the More.. menu options
Tapping the circle check box next to an individual message will allow you to forward or delete the message based on the option you select. To delete the message, tap the trash can icon in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. To forward the message, tap the forward button in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen
Deleting individual messages
Forwarding individual messages
If you’d like to delete all messages without deleting the entire message thread, you can tap the Delete All button in the upper left-hand corner. Doing this will present you with a dialogue box with the option to Delete Conversation or Cancel. Deleting a conversation will purge all of the individual messages contained within a conversation, but it’ll keep the empty shell of the conversation in the list of message threads.
Deleting an entire conversation
At the top of each conversation, you’ll see a button in the upper right-hand corner labeled Contact. The Contact button allows you to easily call, FaceTime, or view the contact’s address book information.
Tapping the group of contacts yields individual contact buttons
If you tap the Contact button while within a group conversation, you’ll see call, FaceTime, and info buttons for all of the conversation’s participants. You can also tap the To: field while within a group conversation to display the same info that’s displayed when using the Contact button.
Now that you know the ins and outs of composing a new message, let’s talk about conversations. The iPhone was a pioneering device when it came to text messaging, because it allowed you to easily revisit conversations and pick up right were you left off. Prior to the iPhone, most mobile phones featured a disjointed and disorganized view of your conversations, if it did so at all.
Two Messages app threads
You can easily revisit a conversation with the Messages app, as each new message or group message is sorted into a list of threads. The top level that you’ll find in the Messages app is that of the thread view. Messages threads are sorted by date, with the most recent conversation appearing near the top of the list.
Message threads can be searched using the search box located at the top of the Messages app. You can search by recipient name, or by any of the words appearing in the context of a conversation. The search feature is an extremely powerful tool for finding specific content that you’re looking for. Even if a conversation took place years in the past, you can easily search and find specific content.
Search is a powerful tool built into the Messages app
If you want to delete a message thread, you can swipe on the thread from right to left until the red Delete option appears. Tapping the delete button will immediately remove it, but be careful, there is no undo option for deleting message threads.
Deleting message threads requires just a swipe
You can also delete threads by tapping the Edit button in the upper left-hand corner of the Messages app, and then tap the red ‘-‘ buttons to the left of the thread that you want to delete. I prefer not to use this method, because it is slower than just swiping on a thread, and provides no real advantages over the simple swipe-to-delete gesture. Unfortunately, there is no way to delete multiple message threads in one fell swoop, so if you have a lot of threads that you want to delete, you’re going to have to delete them item-by-item.
There are two types of group messages that can be managed via the stock Messages app. There are iMessage-based group messages, and group MMS messages. Group MMS messages are messages featuring more than one recipient who isn’t using iMessage. For instance, if you send a message to three recipients, and only two of those recipients are iMessage users, then the message will be sent as a group MMS. Group MMS messages can be identified by their conversation title, which should read “Group MMS.” All of the messages that you send in a group MMS conversation will be labeled with a green chat bubble to denote the traditional SMS protocol.
The Group MMS heading for SMS group messages
Group messages that are strictly between iMessage recipients are identified by the “Group” conversation title. As mentioned earlier, iMessage-based group messages feature all the benefits of a standard iMessage conversation between two participants. The messages that you send in a group iMessage conversation will be labeled with a blue chat bubble to denote the usage of the iMessage protocol.
The plain Group heading for iMessage groups
When engaging in a group message conversation, each participant can be easily identified by an avatar to the left of their chat bubbles. The avatar is based on the photo you have assigned to the contact in the Contacts app. If no photo has been added for a particular contact, you’ll see the contact’s initials, instead of a photo. Avatars are present in both group MMS messages and iMessage group messages. You’ll also see the full name of the contact above each of the message bubbles that break into the conversation.
Participants in group messages are easily identifiable via avatars and names
The most basic way to reply to received messages is to simply open the Messages app, and tap on the conversation thread that you wish to reply to. Conversations containing unread messages feature a blue dot to the left of the contact name on the message thread view.
Unread messages are denoted with a blue dot
If you have notifications enabled for the Messages app, you can reply to received messages directly from banner notifications, from Notification Center, or from Lock screen notifications.
Replying from Notification Center
Slide down the Notification Center overlay menu by sliding down from the status bar towards the bottom of the screen. Tap on the received message under the Messages section to open directly to the conversation pertaining to the notification.
Replying from the Lock screen
If you have Lock screen notifications enabled via the Notification Center, you can reply to received messages using shortcut from the iPhone’s Lock screen. On the Lock screen you’ll see the message with a “slide to reply” option below it. To reply to messages from the Lock screen, you’ll need to slide directly on the message as if you were unlocking your device. This will open your device directly to the conversation pertaining to the notification. Be aware that you may have to enter a passcode, or verify with Touch ID if using an iPhone 5s, before you can reply to messages from the Lock screen.
Replying from banner notifications
Banner Notifications are the easiest incoming message notifications to reply to. All you need to do is tap on an incoming banner notification before it disappears. If you wait too long and it disappears, you should be able to access the notification via the Notification Center overlay if you have Notification Center enabled for the Messages app.
To adjust any of the settings for the Messages app, you’ll need to venture into the stock Settings app and go to the Messages panel.
The iMessage protocol, which serves as a major upgrade to traditional SMS messages, can be enabled or disabled by means of the Messages preferences. iMessages, as has been mentioned, allow you to converse with contacts via both cellular and Wi-Fi connections, and you can correspond between iPhones, iPad, and the iPod touch. Only fellow iOS users can communicate via iMessage. Be sure to read a more in-depth description about the benefits of iMessage above.
The primary iMessage toggle
If you disable iMessage on an iPhone, you can still send messages using the traditional SMS protocol. If you disable iMessage on an iPad or iPod touch, you will not be able to use the Messages app at all.
When iMessage is disabled on non-iPhone iOS devices, this is what you’ll see
Read receipts allow you to automatically send acknowledgements when a message sent via iMessage is read. Recipients will be notified within the conversation when you read a message. A read message means that you’ve viewed the message in the conversation view. You can only receive Read receipts in a solo conversation, meaning that you will not see Read receipts in a Group conversation. If you disable read receipts, acknowledgments will not be sent. When first using iMessage, you will receive a pop-up asking if you want Read Receipts enabled. If you decline, you can always come back to the Messages portion of the stock Settings app to re-enable Read Receipts.
If iMessage is unavailable for any reason, and you’re sending messages via an iPhone, you have the option of falling back to the SMS protocol. At times, Apple may have trouble with its servers, or you may be having trouble with your Internet connection. Either of these scenarios can cause iMessage to stutter or not send at all. In cases such as these, it is nice to be able to fall back to SMS messaging in order to get your message sent in a timely manner. This option is only available for iPhones.
You can have multiple iMessage addresses associated to your Apple ID, and some of these addresses can consist of phone numbers. If you have more than one address assigned to an Apple ID, you can selectively enable or disable an address directly from this section.
For the iPhone, the phone number for the device, if properly activated, must be enabled to receive iMessages. You can select other addresses at which you’d like to receive messages by tapping the address. You can add additional email addresses using the Add An Email… option as well.
Adding An Email address will allow you to add a separate email account and associate it with an Apple ID. The email address does not have to be an iCloud or .me address. It can be any email address which you have access to; you’ll just need to verify the address by means of a verification email sent by Apple after signing in with your Apple ID.
If you have more than one address associated with your iMessage account and enabled in the “you can be reached by iMessage” section, you can select that address as the address that you wish to start new conversations from. The address defaults to the first on your “from” list, which will be the phone number on iPhones, but you can change it to any enabled address.
The following toggles primarily apply to only SMS/MMS messages, not iMessages.
You can completely disable MMS messaging, which prevents you from being able to send and receive text messages with media contents like photos and pictures via traditional SMS protocol. You’ll also not be able to participate in group messages via SMS. If you disable MMS, the group message toggle is automatically disabled.
Though iMessage has many benefits, you don’t have to be use iMessage to participate in group messages. You can enable or disable group messages directly from the Messages settings.
This has always been a bizarre setting to me, and I don’t personally know anyone who’s ever used it. That being said, you can enable a separate subject field for the messages you send. Although this toggle is placed under the SMS/MMS settings, you can send iMessages with subjects if you choose to do so.
Traditional SMS messages have a 160 character limit per text message. You can go over that limit, but your message will be broken up into separate pieces with each 160 character threshold you cross. The character count allows for a handy reference point as you churn out your SMS text messages. iMessages have no arbitrary limits, so there’s no need for an iMessage character count.
iOS 7 introduced an extremely handy new feature that allows you to block recipients from sending you messages. Blocking users will not only block messages, but it will also block phone calls, or FaceTime calls, so use caution.
From the Blocked panel in the Messages settings, you can add a new blocked user by tapping the Add New button and selecting a contact from your address book. You can also edit remove blocked users by swiping on the contact address or phone number and selecting Unblock, or by tapping the Edit button in the upper right-hand corner, and tap on the red ‘-‘ delete button and selecting Unblock.
Tapping on a blocked contact will provide you with information about the blocked user. You can tap the contact’s address or phone number to compose a message or make a call directly to a blocked user. If the blocked user is not a part of your contacts, you can choose to create a new contact or add to an existing contact.
If you’d like to block a user who is not a contact, open up the conversation from the sender you’d like to block, tap the Contact button in the upper right-hand corner, tap the ‘i’ button, scroll down and select Block this Caller at the bottom of the info page, and tap Block Contact.
iOS 7’s Messages app is my go-to method for staying in touch with the people I know. It has the great iMessage service, which basically eliminates the need to use traditional text messaging. iMessage makes it super-easy to share photos, links, videos, and engage in group chats with the type of simplicity that Apple is renowned for.
If you ask me, the only glaring flaw with iMessage is the lack of ability to quickly reply from anywhere on your device. Sure, you can reply to messages from Notification Center, and from the Lock screen, but it would be nice if Apple incorporated some sort of overlay to quickly reply to messages and to quickly compose messages while using other apps.
But even with the lack of quick reply, Apple’s Messages app is one of the best features about owning an iOS device. It allows you to seamlessly communicate between the iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, and even the Mac.
What do you think about iOS 7’s Messages app? Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Is there anything you’d change about it? Sound off down below in the comments section. I’m interested to hear what you have to say.