Messaging is arguably one of the most oft-used features of mobile devices. And with folks overwhelmingly embracing services like WhatsApp, little wonder instant messaging has overtaken traditional SMS by volume. The October 2011 iMessage unveiling signaled an era of frictionless communication between Apple device owners, made convenient by blurring the line between SMS and IM.
iOS 7 elevates that experience by making it prettier while implementing a few evolutionary improvements. That said, the iOS 7 Messages app is nonetheless a pretty big departure from iOS 6. But don’t worry – iDB has you covered…
The iMessage platform itself hasn’t seen much changes on iOS 7. As before, you can exchange instant messages, documents, photos, videos, contact information and group messages with other iOS or OS X users over Wi-Fi, 3G or LTE.
On the flip side, iMessage in between frequent service outages and messages appearing out of order is far from perfect. OS X Mavericks promises to fix the latter issue and also brings a handy Quick Reply button for iMessage alerts. This lets you reply to a message right from the notification, without having to leave the app you’re in.
Unfortunately, this useful thingie is nowhere to be found on iOS 7 – yet. Quick Reply shouldn’t be a Mac exclusive for too long and I suspect it’ll surface in one of the upcoming iOS 7 betas.
The most obvious change in iOS 7 Messages is its clean look that follows the system-wide flattened UI appearance. Like before, blue bubbles indicate Internet-based iMessage communication and green ones indicate SMS-based messaging.
The new colors and translucent keyboards in iOS 7 Messages app.
The Send button, however, has been re-worked for an all-grey appearance, with only the button label turning green/blue depending on whether the recipient can be reached over SMS/iMessage.
The basics are the same.
Pull down on a message list to reveal the search field. Swipe to the left to delete an entire conversation. Tap on the status bar to quickly jump to the top of the list. And yes, scrolling through a really long list of messages is fluid.
Here, have a look at Jeff’s quick video walkthrough of the Messages facelift in iOS 7.
To start a new conversation, hit the upper right icon. Up pops a redesigned yet familiar New Message interface. Simply start typing in your contact’s name, email address or phone number and Messages will pull matching info from Contacts.
Like before, blue contact fields indicate iMessage capability. You can see on the screenie below I’m able to reach Cody via iMessage on both his iPhone and Gmail. His iDB email is grayed out so I can’t use that for iMessage.
Yes, I’m using Croatian keyboard.
Like before, Messages needs an active data connection to check with Apple if the recipient has iMessage set up. Again, on iPhones, the app seamlessly transitions from iMessage to SMS and vice versa, without any intervention on your part.
Notice the two buttons at the top: Messages, which takes you back to the message list like before and a new Edit button which invokes additional options, depending on whether your contact is iMessage-enabled or not.
Chat bubble/email icons on contact cards are tapable.
In either case, your buttons to place a cellular phone call (Call) or initiate a FaceTime Video/Audio session will be nested here. A third button labeled Info opens the recipient’s contact card.
As we told you before, Apple in iOS 7 implemented the useful contact blocking capability. Rather than block phone calls only, it also prevents FaceTime calls and SMS/iMessages from reaching your device. To block a person in Messages, hit Edit, then Info and finally Block This Caller at the bottom of their contact card.
New in Settings > Messages: Blocked people list.
No more phone calls and messages from this guy.
Messages preferences in the Settings app have remained intact, sans a new Blocked section where all your blocked contacts get listed. Here you can unblock one or more entries or add another person from Contacts to the Blocked list, all in one central place – quite useful.
And now for the oddities.
Whereas in iOS 6 you could forward/delete multiple messages using the Edit button, iOS 7 awkwardly requires you to tap and hold on a message bubble as if you were to copy its contents.
Two options will pop up: Copy and More.
Message operations like forwarding are now tucked under the More menu.
Copy is self-explanatory and More marks messages for deletion. In a rather counter-intuitive design choice, forwarding the selected messages requires tapping the Share icon in the lower right – how bizarre is that?
As seen on a pair of screenies above, I marked three messages from my conversation with Ed. Tapping Share has created a new message with the selected message contents (below).
You can swipe through media attachments as before, albeit with an added twist.
You’ll also notice a brand new Folder icon for a handy list of conversation attachments along with their file names. As you’d expect, you can share attachments with others through system-wide choices like AirDrop and Email or send them to third-party apps that support the Open In feature.
Browsing image attachments in iOS 7 Messages.
And thanks to Apple’s relaxed approach to the iOS 7 Lock screen, you can access all Messages notifications by pulling down on the Lock screen, even if your device is locked.
Put a Quick Reply button in there and I’ll be your biggest cheerleader, Apple!
For those wondering, the optional delivered and read receipts saw no improvements. And don’t bother looking for per-message time stamps as Apple inexplicably hasn’t implemented this sought-after feature.
Timestamps have been enabled in iOS 7 Beta 2.
Just swipe from the right to reveal timestamps for every individual message.
The missing ones
There’s so much more Apple can do with Messages.
Of course, this is the first in what will be at least half a dozen beta releases until iOS 7 is finalized for public consumption, so some things will change down the road. And as we all know, Apple takes user feedback seriously so there’s hope Messages might see some refinements in the run-up to a Fall release.
Now, I know you can’t please everyone. That being said, surely at the top of many wish lists are those essential per-message time stamps. I also don’t want my communication to be limited to Mac and iOS devices so a Messages client for Windows would be much welcomed.
And now that seamless SMS/iMessage integration has been nailed, how about supporting popular third-party chat services in Messages? Just give us an option to set up any XMPP-based client, like Facebook Chat, in Messages. Conveniently enough, the stock Contacts app already supports an Instant Message field.
Speaking of Facebook, give Messages some Chat Heads love, will you? At the very least, I’d expect to see a contact’s profile image at the top of my conversation thread. Remarkably enough, iOS 7 indeed makes extensive use of profile images throughout the system, in places like Safari’s Shared Links and Favorites in the Phone app.
Profile images in Safari’s Shared Links. Facebook Chat Heads, much?
I imagine adding these to Messages would be trivial.
And what’s up with the FaceTime app in iOS 7?
Isn’t it kinda cumbersome to spin FaceTime into a standalone app? This especially rings true for a company that prides itself with unmatched vertical integration. If I were Apple, I’d merge these apps (Messages, FaceTime and Phone) into a unified communication solution.
See, I’m not a hard guy to please.
On a final note, Messages really hasn’t changed much since iMessage’s inception. Apart from a tweak here and there (i.e. all-new FaceTime Audio VoIP calling), most of the plumbing in iOS 7 is about breathing new life into Apple’s mobile operating system.
And with the redesign now taken care of, I’m guessing iOS 8 will bring out more profound messaging improvements. But competition isn’t standing still. Take Google, for example, and its new Hangout app that wants to become a cross-platform messaging standard.
And let’s not forget BlackBerry Messenger, coming soon to iOS.
On top of that, Viber and WhatsApp have both been picking up steam lately and Facebook’s been innovating with such Messenger enhancements as Chat Heads, stickers and unified SMS/Internet messaging (Android-only).
Taking it all in, Apple can hardly sit on the sidelines whilst rivals move at a blistering pace.
From my vantage point, Apple should first merge FaceTime with iMessage.
Supporting third-party chat services should be the next priority, even more so those based on industry-standard XMPP. At the very least, Apple must fix iMessage’s reliability ASAP, add proper time stamps and preferably release a Messages web app and Windows client in order to ensure base feature parity with competing solutions.
Here’s a company-made video tour of key iOS 7 features.
So, are you satisfied with how Messages in iOS 7 is coming along?
Did I leave anything out?
What other features would you like implemented?
Meet us in comments.