How to use Digital Touch in Messages for iPhone and iPad

By , Oct 6, 2016

iOS 10 Messages Digital Touch teaser

Digital Touch debuted as a sort of gimmicky feature of the Apple Watch software. On iOS 10, Digital Touch has made its way into the stock Messages app, making it easy and to add various effects to photo or video attachments, send sketches, taps, kisses, heartbeats and more. In this step-by-step tutorial, you’re going to learn how to express your feelings in style with the Digital Touch features on your iOS 10-enabled iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

Digital Touch system requirements

Digital Touch is supported on any iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with iOS 10 or later.

Digital Touch-enriched messages created on iOS devices render properly on Macs with macOS Sierra, as well as on the Apple Watch with watchOS 3 or later. On the downside, you cannot send Digital Touch effects from your computer because Messages for Mac lacks a built-in Digital Touch interface.

The Apple Watch permits you to send Digital Touch sketches, taps, your heartbeat and other animated expressions to friends and family, just like you can with Digital Touch on iOS 10 devices, with the sole exception of Digital Touch-enhanced photos and videos that do show up on the Apple Watch but cannot be created from your wrist.

What you can send with Digital Touch

Use Digital Touch to send the following things to your friends and family:

  • Sketches
  • Taps
  • Kisses
  • Your heartbeat
  • Broken hearts
  • Angry fireballs

You can access Digital Touch features whilst responding to an incoming message, composing a new message from scratch or replying to anyone you have an open conversation with already.

Creating animated sketches

Digital Touch makes it easy to create sketches by way of drawing with your finger on the screen. Digital Touch-enhanced sketches animate for the recipient the way you drew them.

1) Create a new conversation in Messages or tap an existing chat in the conversation list, then hit the Digital Touch button, it’s the middle icon to the left of the Messages text field.

2) Tap and hold with one finger, then drag the finger across the Digital Touch canvas to sketch anything you want on the screen. To take the Digital Touch canvas full screen, tap the upwardly pointing arrow in the bottom right.

You can sketch to your heart’s content before sending your creation. To use a different color, select it on the canvas then start drawing again.

You can pick from any of the following colors:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Purple
  • White

3) Tap the circled up arrow to send your finished digital sketch.

This is what an animated sketch will look like on the recipient’s end.

Digital Touch Sketch GIF

To clear it and start from scratch, tap the “x” in the upper left while you’re in the canvas.

Sending animated expressions

In addition to sending quick sketches, Digital Touch supports sending a single tap or a more complex pattern comprised of multiple taps. As a cool bonus, Messages makes it easy to express your feelings with big, nicely animated hearts, kisses, fireballs and other objects.

How to send taps

Open Messages, tap the Digital Touch button to the left of the text field, then tap anywhere on the canvas with one or more fingers to create a burst of color. Your taps are sent automatically as soon as they dissolve from the canvas.

iOS 10 Digital Touch tap iPhone screenshot 002

You can also change the color for your taps. If you’re fast enough and change the color before your existing taps dissolve, you’ll be able to keep adding new taps to the sequence.

Here’s what your custom tap sequence may look on the recipient’s end.

Digital Touch Taps GIF

On the Apple Watch, the built-in Taptic Engine produces a vibration on your wrist for each received tap or tap pattern. On the iPhone, a Digital Touch tap may produce a single vibration.

Attention to detail: The entire tapping sequence is replicated on the recipient’s side in the correct order complete with the position of your taps.

How to send kisses

Open Messages and tap the Digital Touch button to the left of the text field. Next, tap the canvas with two fingers simultaneously, then let go to send an animated kiss to the recipient.

iOS 10 Digital Touch kiss iPhone screenshot 002

Digital Touch kisses always appear in purple and changing color has no effect on them. This is what your digital kisses may look like on the receiving end.

Digital Touch Kisses GIF

Attention to detail: The angle of the kiss graphics matches the angle between your fingers, as you’re seeing on the screenshot above.

How to send a heartbeat

Open Messages, tap the Digital Touch button to the left of the text field, tap and hold with two fingers on the canvas to produce a single animated heartbeat, then let go to send it away.

iOS 10 Digital Touch heartbeat iPhone screenshot 002

Once the recipient receives your heartbeat, this is what they may see on their iPhone.

Digital Touch Heartbeat GIF

Attention to detail: If you own an Apple Watch or another wireless sensor that captures heartbeat data, Messages will use it to send your actual heartbeat. Your Apple Watch-totting recipient will feel your captured heartbeat on their wrist.

How to send a heartbreak

To send a heart that splits in two, open Messages and tap the Digital Touch button to the left of the text field. Tap and hold anywhere on the canvas with two fingers until you see a heartbeat, then drag down to break the heart and then it will be sent to the person you’re messaging.

iOS 10 Digital Touch broken heart iPhone screenshot 002

You can tap and hold for as long as you like before you split the heart in two pieces.

This is what the heartbreak will look like for the recipient.

Digital Touch Broken Heart GIF

Attention to detail: For the recipient, the heart will pulse for as long as you were holding your fingers pressed against the screen before it ripped into two pieces.

How to send a fireball

Open Messages and tap the Digital Touch button to the left of the text field. Now tap and hold with one finger, or press and hold with one finger on 3D Touch-enabled devices, and let go to shoot an angry fireball at the recipient.

This is how a person on the other side sees your fireball.

Digital Touch Fireball GIF

Attention to detail: The animation will loop on the recipient’s end for as long as you were pressing the Digital Touch canvas with your finger.

Pulling up animated expressions cheat sheet

If memorizing all those gestures for animated expressions is proving too much for your gray matter (and you’re not alone: I, too, have a heard time recalling them), Messages has you covered with a built-in cheat sheet for Digital Touch gestures.

iOS 10 beta 5 Digital Touch splash screen silver iPhone screenshot 001

To bring up an overlay listing all of the gestures required for producing Digital Touch taps, sketches and animated expressions, tap the area to the right side of the Digital Touch canvas.

Animated expressions on Mac and Apple Watch

As we mentioned before, animated expressions of your feelings will render properly in Messages for Mac and Messages for Apple Watch. You can also create and send these things from your wrist with Messages for Apple Watch (minus effects on photos and videos),

Apple Watch Digital Touch

Messages for Mac cannot create any Digital Touch-enhanced messages.

TUTORIAL: sending animated Digital Touch expressions from Apple Watch

How to draw over photos and videos

In addition to applying Digital Touch effects to a black background, Messages supports sketching, drawing or stamping animated expressions on top of your photos or videos.

1) Create a new conversation in Messages or tap one of your existing chats in the conversation list, then tap the Digital Touch button to get to the canvas.

2) Tap the round Camera button on the left side of the canvas to invoke the built-in camera feature.

3) You can now tap the round black button to take a photo attachment, or start capturing a video attachment by tapping the round red button.

iOS 10 Messages Digital Touch Fireball silver iPhone screenshot 003

4) After the photo has been taken, add a Digital Touch effect to it.

Digital Touch effects can only be added while the video is being recorded, not after the fact.

iOS 10 Digital Touch sketch photo video iPhone screenshot 001

5) Tap the Send button to send your Digital Touch-enhanced media as an iMessage attachment.

You cannot add Digital Touch effects to existing media in your Photos library.

Instead, take advantage of a built-in Markup feature to edit photos or videos from your Photos library before they’re sent with Photos’ built-in editing tools, filters and vector drawing tools, without ever leaving the context of the Messages app.

TUTORIAL: How to edit, annotate & manage attachments in Messages for iOS

Messages for iOS deletes received video messages after two minutes, and this includes any Digital Touch-enhanced video clips. Your recipient can tap Keep below the message to save the video permanently in Messages, or tell iOS to always keep all received messages by selecting Forever in Settings → Messages → Keep Messages.

TUTORIAL: using Messages low-quality image mode to preserve cellular data

Unfortunately, iOS 10 does not provide a dedicated switch that would let you tell Messages to always keep received video attachments on the device.

Related Messages tutorials

If you like this how-to, check out these Messages tutorials from our archive:

How did you like this tutorial?

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Do you use Digital Touch features on your iOS devices?

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  • Joseph Apodaca

    That’s actually really helpful. Thanks!

  • M_Hawke

    “Gimmicky” is an appropriate descriptor. Most of these new iMessage gimmicks take so long to create, why bother? And after a (short) while, the wow factor is snorzzzzzville.

    • Diego Milano

      Well yeah, similar to the fact you can draw from the Notes app and it was never a hype.

  • Agneev Mukherjee

    Well-made tutorial! Actually learned a lot.

  • Diego Milano

    Too bad I’m on iOS 9.3.3 and I can’t see these at all, Apple should have considered this so that there would be a workaround, but I guess it is a way to invite others to upgrade to iOS 10.
    I’m just waiting for a jailbreak.