After Monday's WWDC keynote, Apple took us backstage for a preview of the new Messages app before its public release.
The Messages app is getting a massive update for iOS 10: three times bigger emoji, handwriting, an app store just for iMessage, full-screen *laser* effects, automatic "emojification," and more. There are a lot of features, and we tried playing with them as much as we could.
For clarification, Messages is the app and iMessage is the platform. Messages can receive texts from non-iOS devices too — but the new features only work between iOS devices with iMessage enabled. The new Messages app will come with the iOS 10 update (available now for developers only) in the beta for early/desperate adopters in July, and the public release in the fall.
Nicole: When a full-screen effect is added to a message, music plays when you open the thread. Like, loud actual music. When I first realized that, I thought, Nooo, so many of my friends are going to use this to troll me. I can absolutely imagine stealth-checking my texts during a movie or something and mistakenly sharing Messages' stock Euro-style trance track with the world.
That being said: The most amazing comment on our video was "can't wait to send F*ck you with all those party lights." Yes, in that context, LASERS ARE GOING TO BE GREAT.
Charlie: I had the exact same thought. It’s funny because it seems like a lot of these features that are kinda cool and definitely impressive in one sense are also sort of mystifying. Like, who is the EDM laser and strobe text designed for, exactly? Our colleague Katie wrote this brilliant piece about Apple designing its products for Apple Man, this fictional, upwardly mobile, fit, business traveler DILF. And I think there's the same kind of naive imagining at play here.
Some of these more gimmicky features feel like they were designed without taking into consideration how real people talk. Lasers are cool the first time you see them, but I can totally imagine throwing my phone across the room the 600th time somebody turns my iPhone into Yacht Week in Ibiza.
NN: I was fairly impressed with the emoji predictions. You don't need to type the exact emoji name to produce the emoji you probably want. For example, Messages suggested the waving hand sign when I typed hi. 👋 It felt like engineers took the time to think about what humans are actually trying to say when they use emoji.
The "tap-to-replace" emoji-fier feature is kinda overkill. Seems ripe for a Mad Libs miscommunication nightmare for those texting across platforms.
CW: This predictive stuff was one of the only updates that felt NECESSARY. There are lots of keyboards coming out — Google's Gboard being a big one — where this sort of predictive emoji typing is a huge selling point. But yeah. It worked so well when we used it. Super intuitive and when you type something that has multiple emoji options, you get all of them (there are three options for adult beverages that show up when you type "cocktail," for example). Anyhow, this is unequivocally a good-ass update. Solid stuff.
NN: There used to be this dorky app for couples called You & Me where a partner could “hide” photos and messages behind what looked like a fogged up mirror after a hot shower. When the recipient was ready to reveal the sext (let's be real: they were always sexts), they could swipe the virtual fog away. Invisible Ink totally reminds me of that.
I like to imagine that we live in a world where this feature will be used exclusively for puppy reveals and DEFINITELY not for nudes. I’m actually really charmed by Invisible Ink and enjoy that it requires both parties to participate, but humans/my friends will probably ruin it.
CW: Like, does Apple not have any surly teens to consult here? Roughly 3.7 seconds after this was announced onstage on Monday every jabroni with a Twitter account was like "LOL CLICK TO REVEAL NUDEZZZZZZ." I feel like they should’ve asked for a heads up on this one.
N00dz totally aside, there is something clever about this that I like. It feels playful in a way that messaging usually isn’t, save for Snaps. Even if it’s used for non-puppy reveals I think there’s some charm for practical jokes (again, nudes aside). But I really dislike how after a second or two the invisible ink goes back into place and you have to paw around at it to make it come back again. Too much work! Once the surprise is over, you can just leave me with the image/text. You can’t/shouldn’t put the singing lady back in the cake.
CW: I liked this one, actually, though it totally suffers from not having a lot of space to write or, say, the Apple Pen with which to write it. But there's something nice about the ability to doodle. Also: the first thing I thought of when I saw this was how evocative handwriting can be. My mom’s handwriting is meaningful to me and it's really personal. So I like that touch, even if it might take some time for it to look authentic.
But that's kind of a rosy, sentimental view of things. In reality, my friends are probably going to draw an endless parade of dicks because my friends are terrible children and humans are disgusting.
NN: Aw, that’s sweet about your mom, Charlie. I have the worst handwriting and will most likely never use this. I tried finger-writing OMG PUPPIEZ and it looked like a message I had accidentally drawn with my foot.
But I do see how handwriting could be useful for quickly writing words with accents or, if you happen to be texting that kid in your math class who’s way smarter than you, some calculus function.
NN: The animation options are: “slam,” “loud,” “gentle,” and “invisible ink.” You have to 3D Touch or long-press the send button to add one of these effects, which will slow down your response time. It is a very intentional thing. My first impression was that the bubble effects aren’t as silly or fun as the full-screen effects. Those lasers made me laugh out loud every time and the SLAM didn’t have the same magic. I like the idea of using the animations for ~DRAMATIC EFFECT~ but I don’t think they’re a game changer.
CW: Agree with you and totally think this is another example of a showy gimmick. I mean, I get the thinking: Since the dawn of instant message, there’s always been a problem interpreting the meaning of a text. Like, somebody on Twitter last week was talking about how if you end an email with “Thank You.” it’s the equivalent of a punch in the face (lol). I see this as a way to give some added meaning to nebulous texts.
If you text me and say, “I’m gonna be 10 min late to the office” and I reply with “GREAT,” you have no idea if I’m being cool with it or if I’m being sarcastic and secretly emailing our bosses about your truancy because I’m a monster with no chill. So maybe — and I might be giving Apple way too much credit here — they’re thinking that a SLAM will take some of the guesswork out of deciphering texts but I think that’s kinda lame. That nebulous stuff is what makes the internet weird and fun. Keep the net weird.
CW: I am conflicted about all of this. Maybe I'm super weird but when we started playing around with this stuff during our demo I got a little overwhelmed. There is a LOT Of new stuff. All I could think about was my grandma, whom I was recently texting with. Like, one of the joys of iMessage right now is that it's very stark and easy to use. Type in some text and they show up in some blue or green text bubbles. Done. I kept thinking like, "Can my grandma use iMessage now?" And that's kind of a bummer.
And it goes beyond just people who are a little older and less familiar with tech, I think. The whole update is also...very busy. When we were trading all kinds of silly texts during the demo I scrolled through the feed and it is like all sorts of moving images and animations and huge scrawls of handwriting and stickers and LITERAL LASERS AND CLUB MUSIC. I feel like the oldest 29-year-old on the planet but I dunno, I think what I'm trying to say is that it's a bit much and would you please kindly get off my lawn?
On the other hand, there was some stuff — stuff we didn't get to try ourselves but that we saw in our demo — that was really cool. The messages App Store stuff feels really big. It feels super collaborative to me in a way that will actually improve our lives. When they showed us how you can suggest going to a movie and then go straight into a movie tickets app without leaving messenger and pick movie times and buy tickets with Apple Pay all inside the app — that feels like something that's going to make the logistics of ordering lunch or planning a night out with friends a lot easier. It's a lot less flashy, but it feels like the thing that Apple does best: creating these small, seamless features that you didn't know you needed until you got them and now you can't imagine life any other way.
NN: I laughed a lot during our demo. More than I expected to. A lot of the features are just silly and fun — and probably don't warrant high-level analysis.
Opening Messages to developers was a really, really smart move. I spend more time in Messages than most apps and I'm looking forward to paying my friends or sending them Spotify songs with fewer home button clicks.
But yes, I totally agree with the "BUT GRANDMA!" Charlie School of Thought. Not looking forward to reteaching my mom how to use the one dumb phone thing that already translated: texts.
I also kept thinking about my iOS-Android relationship. iMessage and Messages, which — controversial-take siren — I think are pretty great, aren't cross-platform. And that's really shitty. Apple opened Messages for Mac to non-iOS texts, which, at the time, felt like a huge deal, but made no mention of Android compatibility for the new Messages app, now or in the future. On the contrary, Google seems to be making cross-platform compatibility for its newer apps (like Allo and Duo) a priority.
It doesn't matter how many kewl features you pack into a messaging app if you can't use it to message the people who are most important to you, like CyanogenMod-obsessed boyfriends.