Extending iMessage

The Message app is the most used application on iOS. This isn't really a surprise when one thinks about how people use their phones, but it does identify an area that the developer community hasn't been able to tap into despite users spending a great deal of their time there. For someone like me, it was difficult to imagine that there really was anything that developers could do with iMessage, as my use case is just sending images, videos, and text in the same way that you could with SMS and MMS. Of course, I make use of some other convenient features like group chats, read receipts, etc, but none of these areas seemed to present a way for third party developers to add value. Of course, that's when I think about how I use messaging, but there's a whole world of messaging beyond the most basic functionality that SMS and iMessage provide. Apple is tapping into those ideas for iMessage in iOS 10, and they're bringing developers along for the ride.

Apple has taken a two pronged approach to upgrading iMessage in iOS 10. The first are the features that come by default, the features that are part of iMessage itself. I actually covered some of these in my macOS Sierra preview, although in a limited manner as macOS Sierra is not capable of using most of the new features itself and is just able to receive messages that use them. The two main features added to iMessage by default in iOS 10 are message effects and Digital Touch messages.

Message effects work as you'd expect, with animations that can be applied to the actual message bubble itself or as an effect that plays in the background behind the scrolling list of messages. For bubble effects Apple provides an invisible ink effect that requires you to swipe across the message to reveal it, a gentle effect with tiny text, a loud effect which enlarges the bubble for a moment when it's viewed, and a slam effect which crashes the message into the screen, complete with dust effects as it touches down. As for screen effects, you have balloons, confetti, lasers, fireworks, and a shooting star. There's not a whole lot else to say about message effects, as other messaging apps have implemented these features before. If you're a fan of them then you'll be happy to see them brought to iMessage, and if you're not you'll just have to hope all your contacts feel the same way.

Anyone who has used an Apple Watch will be familiar with Digital Touch. In this case it has been modified since you're using it from an iPhone instead of a watch, and the list of things you can send have been expanded as well. To bring up Digital Touch you simply tap the icon with two fingers on a heart which sits next to the text entry field. Once you do so you'll be presented with a condensed version of the Digital Touch UI in the space where the keyboard would normally be. This UI works in a similar manner for iMessage apps, although I'll touch on that more in a bit. 

In the condensed UI there's a small drawing canvas where you can perform Digital Touch actions. On the left side you have a button that allows you to change the color of the pen used when drawing, and below that is a camera button which expands the UI and allows you to draw on top of a photo taken with the camera.

The expanded UI will first show a preview of all the actions you can perform. These all work in the condensed UI as well, but you may not know about all of them until you bring up the expanded version as the condensed view only shows three actions on the right side and switches between two sets every few sections to show all six. To be honest, the Digital Touch interface is kind of confusing, and I wouldn't be surprised if it receives some tweaks in future minor updates to iOS 10. I'm don't really much value in Digital Touch on the iPhone either, especially since actions like tapping don't translate well from the Apple Watch where it would actually trigger the Taptic Engine to simulate your wrist being tapped.

The second side of the iMessage improvements is the creation of a developer ecosystem centered around iMessage. This API will allow developers to create their own mini-applications that run inside of iMessage. This really covers three types of applications, the first of which being sticker packs, the second being interactive messages, and the third being other types of apps that work with media. You can see an example above of the new Super Mario Run sticker pack which is available in the iMessage app store. Interactive messages cover applications that send messages with content which can then be opened by the receiving user in the corresponding application. Apple's example was sending a message with the menu for a party being planned, which can then be modified and commented on by the receivers. Finally, the other category of app is for working with media, and an obvious example is implementing a GIF application for sourcing reaction images in the iMessage app itself.

I'm not really someone who makes heavy use of emoji or effects in message apps, and so I don't have a whole lot else to say about the changes Apple has made to iMessage in iOS 10. However, the popularity of these features in other messaging apps makes it clear that many users value these capabilities, and so it makes perfect sense for Apple to bring them to iMessage. Most interesting for me is the idea of the iMessage App Store, and whether or not it's going to be possible to monetize applications like sticker packs. Line has already shown that people will pay money for such things, but that relies on developers not rapidly creating a race to the bottom for prices, which is what has happened in the iOS App Store to an extent. Like many of the new technologies that Apple introduces in new versions of iOS, only time will tell how things play out.

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  • JoeyJoJo123 - Tuesday, September 13, 2016 - link

  • Dennis Travis - Tuesday, September 13, 2016 - link

    I am shocked someone did not badger them about the HTC10 review.
  • dsumanik - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    I will save you the trouble of reading it:

    There will be pleasing photos of the new iphone held up in front of leafy trees, and closeups on top of a flat ironed grey cloth of a pristine black iphone with zero fingerprints. There will also be a token shot of the phone turned on underwater.

    Next it will address the loss of the lightning connector, saying that this will eventually be so much better for the industry as a whole (while completely ignoring a move to USB-C is what would have been for the 'greater good').

    Then it will go on to point out how many more things that have been improved that are getting overshadowed by the loss of the headphone jack and that the author really feels "this is the best iphone ever" and how wonderful the storage upgrade that should have happened 3 years ago is, really making the phone a much better value.

    The screen with "wide" color is going to be so amazing that it will be completely forgivable it's only 1080p. The new colors and minimized antennas will completely make up for the fact that the design hasn't changed in 3 years. It "really will feel like a new phone". Oh and the stereo audio is gong to be amazing. You will have to hear it in person to understand how loud and clear it is.

    Finally it will not mention that since the phone can play headphones with a simple adapter, there is in fact a DAC still on board, added to the fact that they crammed in another speaker in there it really makes the "we did it to save space" argument a total lie, because id sure as hell rather have a headphone jack than another speaker.

    In fact, the review will completely fail to mention that being as apple is a headphone company, if they truly were after 'a wireless future' they would simply stop manufacturing wired headphones, and could have done so years ago. It will completely ignore that stopping sales of traditional wired headphones would hurt beats profits, making the purchase of the company bad for stock holders, making this move the biggest form of hipocracy ever.

    But thats ok, it's for the best. You'll want the new iphone, headphones be damned. You know you will, and youll buy it because apple told you to buy it, because they know whats best for you and the anandtech review will just confirm what youve alredy believe:

    The iphone 7 is the best phone ever and it makes you a cooler, smarter person just for having one in your pocket.
  • m16 - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    What on earth does that rant have to do with iOS? You're on the wrong article.
  • Dennis Travis - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    Dude, sorry, you have lost it. And like was said this is the IOS10 review, NOT the iphone 7. Why the rant? Do you have proof Anandtech is paid to give Apples stuff great reviews, or could it quite possibly be they really do perform that well!! :D Grin
  • dsumanik - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    dude, thats what josh ho does for every iphone review, go read em lol...its supposed to be a joke
  • Notmyusualid - Thursday, September 15, 2016 - link

    I enjoyed it!
  • Derjis - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    Did you guys even bother reading the previous comments, or did you just immediately feel the need to jump in with a "GOTCHA!!!!"?
    dsumanik is responding to a comment about when Anandtech will have the iPhone7 review done.
  • bodonnell - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    I'm so sick of people whining about the bloody headphone jack already. Don't like it, don't buy it.
  • Donkey2008 - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    @bodonnell - Exactly. Just like the people whining about the 16GB iPhone. Need more space? Then buy the fing 64GB model or go buy an Android. Problem solved.

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