Group messaging improved in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, but two of the best features are hard to discover by accident: replying just to one person within the group, and mentioning one or more people to highlight that you want them to see a message.
In a group chat in Messages, press and hold on a message, and the usual array of reply options appears, including reactions. Tap Reply, and the message appears in a sort of isolated environment, in which the rest of the group’s messages are visually blurred out and you just see the person and their message to which you’re replying. You can type in a reply, and send it. (To exit that mode without replying, just tap elsewhere on the screen above the message.)
That reply appears in a visually threaded view in the stream now, indicating that it’s in a side conversation. While everyone in the chat can see it, it takes up less space: an “X results” item appears for multiple messages in the side chat, which anyone can tap to reveal.
You can also tag people in a message, which is useful in an active chat they might not otherwise see—or if they have the group chat muted, something that’s often necessary when a lot of people are communicating all the time.
Start typing their name, and when Messages finds a match, the name changes from black text to gray (it’s honestly too subtle). You can also type an @ and follow it with part of their contact name to see when a match occurs. Tap that gray text and the contact name appears, which you can tap to select, and which then turns the mention text you typed into a bold blue. If there are multiple potential matches, they all appear, and you can choose among them.
It seems like both @ and regular typing match on last names preferentially, as opposed to first or middle ones. Because my two children share my wife’s last name as their middle and use mine as their last, typing her last name only matches her in a group chat; typing mine offers both our kids as matches.
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