Whether you are a seasoned iPhone user wondering what new messaging features came in iOS 10, or a text messaging novice, wanting to communicate with the grandkids, this article will detail how to send an SMS message on the iPhone as well as how to use the new Messages features. 

First the basics (if you want to jump straight to the new stuff click here)

How to send a SMS text message or iMessage on the iPhone

  1. Open the Messages app
  2. Either tap on a message chain with the person you wish to reply to (then jump to step 5)
  3. Or tap on the square icon in the top right
  4. Start to type in the name of the person you wish to message and you should see autocomplete options (assuming you have their details in you contacts - if not, you will need to add them).
  5. Tap in the text field and start to type your message
  6. Tap the blue (or  green) arrow beside the text field to send your message

What is Messages on the iPhone

The Messages app on the iPhone allows you to send simple text messages, photos, movies and much more to your friends. The app icon is green with a white speech bubble and is likely to be one of the first icons on your iPhone screen. You’ll find the same icon on your iPad screen, and there’s also a Messages app on the Mac - except this time the icon is Blue. You can read about how to send text messages on the iPad here, and everything you need to know about sending and receiving text messages on the Mac here. You can also send Messages from your Apple Watch, find out how, here.

Within Messages there are actually two types of message. Normal text messages that come from your friends who don’t have iPhones will appear in green speech bubbles.

iMessages that come from your friends who have iPhones (or other Apple devices) will appear in blue speech bubbles. iMessages are sent using Apple’s servers so they use a data connection rather than the mobile network. This means that there is no limit to how many you can send and they are effectively free.

Be aware that if you are sending a lot of texts to friends who don’t have iPhones you could be paying to send them. Most mobile phone contracts include a number of free text messages a month, but if yours is limited you might want to avoid using Apple’s Messages app to send messages to friends who don’t have iPhones. It’s ok, you can still message them, we just suggest you use an app like WhatsApp instead. Read: Best Messaging apps for iPhone & iPad.

How to send group messages on the iPhone

If you have a group of friends who own iPhones it is easy to send group messages using Messages on the iPhone.

  1. Open the Messages app
  2. Tap on the square icon in the top right
  3. Start typing the names of your friends…
  4. As long as all the names stay blue you will be able to send the message as a group chat, and any replies will go to everyone on the list
  5. If when you add a name the contacts turn green you won’t be able to hold a group chat over iMessage ask one of your friends doesn’t have an iPhone. In that case, it’s back to WhatsApp again (or just leave them out).

To set up a group of contacts so you don’t have to add them all every time, read: How to set up a contact group on iPhone or iPad.

Best features in Messages on the iPhone

When Apple updated iOS, the iPhone and iPad operating system back in September 2017 it added some nice new features to Message, including:

  • Written text can be automatically converted to an Emoji
  • New bubble animations
  • Handwriting capabilities and personalisation
  • Fullscreen iMessage animations
  • Conceal images or text behind an invisible message
  • Tapback feature to quickly and visually respond to a message
  • New stickers on iMessage speech bubbles
  • Send gifs through Messages
  • Watch YouTube videos in Messages
  • Take pictures directly from Messages
  • Listen to Apple Music directly in Messages

These new features join some of our favourite older features including:

  • Add people to a group conversation partway through
  • Exit or mute group conversations
  • Tap to talk and record an instant audio message
  • Share your location
  • Find images and attachments (and delete them)
  • Know when a message was sent
  • Ability to access your Messages on all your Apple devices - Mac, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch

We’ll look at these new features as well as some of our favourite older Messages features below.

Related: iOS 9 vs iOS 10 | iOS tips | iOS 11 rumours

Convert text to Emoji automatically - new in iOS 10

By using emoji you can add a little light-heartedness to your messages, a wink to say ‘I’m not having a go, really’ or a smily face with tears to indicate that you are ‘laughing out loud’ (not in floods of tears - this could get confusing!)

In iOS 10 Apple made it even easier to use emoji by autosuggesting the emoji you could supplement for a word: e.g. type ‘rabbit’ and a picture of a rabbit will appear as one of the predictive text suggestions. You will need to have Predictive text turned on in Settings > General > Keyboards for this to work.

You can also use this predictive feature after you have composed your message. If you tap on the emoji icon on the keyboard (the smily face) the words that have emoji associated with them will turn orange. Just tap on the red word to automatically change it to the emoji. If you don’t want to overwrite the word with the emoji you could just tap beside the word in the normal keyboard view and then tap on that emoji to have it added to your message beside the word.

To find out more about using Emoji on the iPhone, iPad and Mac read this: How to use emoji on iPhone, iPad & Mac

How to use Messages in iOS 10: Emoji

Use bubble animations - new in iOS 10

There are new animated bubble effects in Messages in iOS 10.

First, write your message. But instead of tapping the blue arrow to send your iMessage, tap and hold the arrow (or use a Force Press, if you've got 3D Touch) instead. You will now be presented with four options: slam, loud, gentle, and invisible ink.

The four options provide different bubble styles. Slam, as the name suggests, places the message in your conversation with a slap-on effect animation. Loud wiggles the message and enlarges the font. Gentle writes the message in a small font and then slowly reverts back to the default size font, and finally the Invisible Ink option hides the message so that your receiver has to swipe across the message to reveal it - useful for surprises or sensitive information you wish to share.

If you are able to send the various message animations available in iOS 10, but can’t receive them it might be because you have turned "Reduce Motion” on in Settings. To disable the feature, head to Settings > Accessibility > Reduce Motion and make sure it's toggled off. If it still doesn’t work toggle iMessage off and on in the Settings menu, which should kick-start those message animations. This can be done by heading to Settings > Messages and toggling iMessage off and on.

Handwriting and animations - new in iOS 10

In iOS 10 Apple made it possible to send handwritten Messages. To activate this tap on the heart icon on the left-hand side of the text field box (if you don’t see it, tap on the arrow on the left of the keyboard and it will appear). You'll be presented with a small black pallet allowing you to draw or send animated gestures. Luckily you’ll see a reminder of how to make various gestures appear - such as a Heart, or a Fireball.

You can also record a video and add effects to this. If you want to record a video, press on the small arrow on the right-hand side of the new section. You'll also be given the option to take a photo.

The tools here are very basic, this isn’t a competitor to Snapchat, yet. However Apple’s new video and social media app, Clips, may well integrate with this. Read about Clips here.

Send full-screen iMessage animations - new in iOS 10

You can also add a fullscreen animation to your messages. To do this, write your message and tap and hold the blue arrow button, but instead of selecting the bubble option as above, tap on the Screen tab to see a Send with Balloons animation effect.

There are a number of other animations to choose from. Swipe left to see Send with Confetti, Love, Lasers, Fireworks, Shooting Stars, and Celebration.

How to use Messages in iOS 10 - Background

Conceal images or text in an invisible message

Got a secret? You can send an invisible message that your friend will only see if they tap on the message.

Type your message and then tap and hold the blue arrow icon before choosing Invisible Ink from the Bubble options.To view the message your friend needs to tap on it, the words will appear for a few seconds before disappearing again.

You can also send photos this way, although the invisible ink doesn’t completely disappear from the image when you tap it, so to see the whole image you will need to press and hold the image until you see the option to save it.

Tapback to quickly and visually respond to a message

Tapback is a little bit like Facebook’s Like options. To use the feature, simply double tap on an iMessage and you'll be presented with a heart, thumbs up, thumbs down, 'Haha', two exclamation marks, and a question mark. This enables you to quickly respond to a message without having to type any text.

How to use Messages in iOS 10 - Tapback

Add stickers to iMessage speech bubbles

You can also add stickers to your messages. Tap on the App Store icon beside the heart and camera icons next to the text bar and you will be presented with various stickers including handwritten messages and gifs. You can also find more stickers at the App Store. Tap on the four blobs on the bottom left and then the icon for Store.

Find gifs to send through Messages

Tap on the app icon and swipe to the images and videos screen. You an search for gifs here in the search box marked Find images and videos.

Watch YouTube videos in Messages

When pasting in links, you would previously see the URL with no preview or idea of what the website looks like to your recipient. With the new Messages update in iOS 10, iMessage now automatically pulls in the main image from the website and provides a nice preview for your recipient.

This is nice, but it’s not that exciting. What is exciting is that it means if you paste in a YouTube video link you and your friend will be able to watch the video directly through the Messages app without having to open up the YouTube app or a browser.

How to use Messages in iOS 10 - Links

Take pictures directly from Messages

The ability to send a photo through Messages isn’t new, but now you can actually can take a photo from within the Messages app, via a view finder at the bottom of the screen.

Simply tap on the camera button on the left-hand side of your text box and the camera will operate. You'll see a live stream of your camera from the bottom half of your Messages application.

You can take selfies, Live Photos and videos. If you swipe to the left you will see your recently taken photos - you can tap on as many of these as you’d like to send via iMessage. Alternatively swipe to the right for a short cut to the Photo Library or to go straight to the camera.

You can edit your photo before sending it. Tap the image you've just inserted within your Messages app and you'll be presented with tools for marking up and editing the image.

How to use Messages in iOS 10 - Camera

Listen to Apple Music directly in Messages

You can also send music via Messages - although the recipient will need an Apple Music account to listen. Just as you did when sending Stickers, tap on the App Store icon beside the heart and camera icons next to the text bar as before you will be presented with various stickers, swipe to the left and you will see the option to send songs from Apple Music to your recipient. You can even listen to the songs within Messages.

Add people to a group conversation partway through

We discussed setting up a group message earlier in this article. One of the features that arrived with iOS 9 was the ability to add a new person to a group chat that had already started.

To do so, go to your group conversation, tap details and then tap Add Contact.

Exit or mute group conversations

Another addition in iOS 9 was the ability to mute group conversations that were getting too noisy.

If you're fed up with getting pinging alerts from a group conversation, you can leave it at any point. To do so, go to Details, scroll down and then tap Leave this Conversation.

More subtly, you can mute group conversations on a per-thread basis - the rest of your messages will carry on generating normal notifications, but your iPhone won't buzz to let you know any further updates to this conversation. Again, go to Details, then turn the 'Do Not Disturb' slider on (it will appear green).

Tap to talk and record an instant audio message

Another new feature that arrived in iOS 8 was the ability to send short audio messages instead of typing out text. This is particularly popular amongst non-English speakers.

Touch and hold on the microphone icon beside the text box to record your message, or simply hold your device up to your ear and speak, and then swipe up to send it. If you want to cancel and delete, swipe left.

‘Lift to hear' (and reply to) your voice messages

If you want to hear a message, you can simply hold the iPhone up and listen to it like it's a phone call, in a lovely, neat bit of gesture control. Better still, you can immediately speak your reply into the iPhone once the original is finished, and as soon as you lower the phone it will be sent.

Read: How to send a text message when iMessage isn't working

Share your  location in a conversation

Since iOS 8 you have been able to share your location in a conversation, and you can automatically share your location with every text you send in a conversation (this can be set to turn off after one hour or at the end of the day).

To share your location once, tap details and then tap 'Send My Current Location’.

To share your location automatically, tap 'Share My Location' and then choose between 'Share for One Hour,' 'Share Until End of Day,' or 'Share Indefinitely.'

Find images and attachments (and delete them)

Since Messages was updated for iOS 8, it has been really easy to find every image and attachment in a Message conversation. All attachments are now organised in one place. Tap on the i in the top right to access ’Details'.

It's a great way to view all the attachments from a busy conversation at once, and far easier to delete images and attachments if you wish to free up space on your iPhone (press and hold on an image in Details view and then choose More, and tap on each photo you wish to delete to ‘delete all’.

Know when a message was sent

It’s hard to believe but before iOS 7 it was actually tricky to know when a message was sent because not every message was time stamped. Now to see what time a message was sent just swipe to the left.