We spend more time than ever communicating via our devices and, given the current state of world affairs, that’s only likely to increase. And while some of that happens via email, social media, or—heaven forbid!—even the phone, the bulk of that communication probably happens in messaging apps.
So it only makes sense that Apple may be considering updates to its Messages app in iOS 14, especially given that the last statistic we heard about iMessage volume was that 200,000 were sent every second—and that was four years ago. (Not much has changed since then, right?)
A report this past week, which originated at MacRumors, mentioned several new and updated Messages features that could appear in iOS 14, many of which seem to borrow ideas from other communication apps. And as welcome as some of those enhancements would be, they leave the door open for plenty of other aspects of Messages that could still be improved.
Picking up the Slack
Several of the features mentioned in the report seem to take a page from the playbook of Slack, the current team-based chat/productivity/time-wasting darling. For example, Messages may allow for more granular notifications, such as tagging specific people in a group chat—@Dan, for example—letting them turn off alerts for each individual message, while still providing a means for getting their attention. Messages on iOS may also get access to the /me feature, which lets people share status updates, which originated from IRC and has actually been part of the macOS version of Messages since its very earliest days.
But there are a lot of other great Slack features that Apple could see fit to borrow here. Threading, for example, is a handy way to manage conversations, especially in group chats that can easily get out of hand. Likewise the /collapse command in Slack is a quick way to hide link previews and images, which is a huge help, especially to those on smaller screen devices.
And, finally, let’s not forget the fun! Slack has also popularized the idea of an emoji reaction, which are displayed in an unobtrusive location beneath the original message. Apple has done something similar with Tapbacks in Messages, but they remain limited to just a handful of options when they should really allow any emoji. Come on, Apple: it’s 2020. Time to let the emoji run wild.
Share with the group
While group iMessage chats have become increasingly popular, they lag behind their one-to-one compatriots in a few different ways, which hopefully iOS 14 can begin to remedy. The above report suggests that group messages may finally support typing indicators, so you can finally feel anxious about waiting for multiple people to respond to a message. (In Slack, we call this the “several people are typing” effect.)
But group messages should also support read receipts, those handy messages that can tell you if your iMessage has been delivered or read by the recipients. For this, take a page from Skype, which puts a mini version of the person’s profile icon below some of the messages, so you can tell at a glance whose actually seen it.
Moreover, Apple should open up the ability to send Apple Pay Cash to group conversations, making it easier for, say, one person to pay a bill and then request payment from several different people, rather than having to message them one by one by one.
Play a little one-on-one
Alongside improvements to group chats, there are no shortage of ways to make one-on-one chats better as well. The report indicates that Apple may add the ability both to leave the last message in a conversation marked as unread as well as to retract an iMessage (which I’m sure we’ve all wanted to do at some point), though the retraction would be noted in the chat.
Personally, I’d like to see the company improve the transparency of different contact methods, so that I can more easily avoid texting my wife on her work phone by accident. Frankly, iMessage’s contact address system could stand a thorough overhaul, as it’s often been confusing to figure out whether you should text a phone number or email address, leaving some people puzzled over the difference and occasionally leading to duplicate conversations. At the very least, Messages should offer ways to manage those types of problems by merging or otherwise reconciling those multiple conversations—better yet, though, would be stemming the problem at its source.
And it would be nice to see better support in Messages for file transfers. Right now, sending a file via iMessage is possible, but you generally have to paste it in or send it from another app. Giving access to the Files browser inside the app, as Apple has done in Mail, would make the process much easier. Because hey, messaging isn’t just about text, or even pictures anymore—and chances are in the near future, we’re going to be relying on it for even more.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.