Apple’s instant messaging platform is already pretty well ahead of the curve compared to the messaging apps that come built-in on competing smartphone platforms, but there’s always room for improvement and it looks like Apple’s not planning on sitting on its laurels.
Last year Apple introduced the ability to set a name and profile photo to share with your iMessage contacts, which certainly seemed like a step in the direction of a more chat-like messaging system, and now a new report from MacRumors reveals that Apple is already testing several new features for iMessage that could arrive in iOS 14, although the development of at least some of these features seems to be independent of iOS (and macOS) meaning that they could be pushed off to a later date, or they could find their way into a point release of iOS 13 even sooner. Read on for some of the cool new iMessage features that Apple is working on.
Apple is said to be testing the ability to “un-send” an iMessage. While it’s always been possible to delete a message from your iMessage conversation thread, this only ever deletes your own copy of the message, not the sender’s version, which has often led to some confusion among iMessage users.
The ability to retract sent messages is something that’s been available in apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger for a couple of years now, but Apple may have been reluctant to implement it due to the hybrid nature of the Messages app; the app is used to send both iMessages (blue bubbles) and standard SMS messages (green bubbles) and it’s simply not possible to retract an SMS text message at all, so there’s an argument to be made for maintaining consistent user expectations.
Apple’s implementation of the feature, as it stands right now, would include fine print to let both sender and recipient know that a message has been retracted, so you wouldn’t be able to hide the fact that you sent a message at all, but merely take back what you said. It’s not certain right now if there would be a time limit on this.
Many of the features seem to be focused on improving group chats, which is certainly an area where iMessage remains a bit weak compared to competing apps like Facebook Messenger and Slack, but Apple plans to close this gap by offering up a mention system that would let users tag group chat participants by using their name, in the same way this feature already works in other group chat apps.
Typing an “@“ sign would bring up a list of suggested contacts, and users who are tagged in a group chat would presumably receive a higher-priority notification. This would be hugely useful in busy group chats, where conversations get muted because of all of the noise. Apple would presumably add an extra setting, either globally or on a per-chat basis to allow users to choose to receive only notifications when they’re mentioned.
Typing Indicators in Group Chats
If you’re in a chat with only one other person, you get a nice indicator that lets you know when the other person is typing, but you may have noticed that this is conspicuously absent in a group chat.
Apple is apparently testing bringing this to entire groups, although we don’t know yet whether it will simply be a generic indicator that somebody is typing or if it will actually include the person’s identity. It’s also hard to say how this would handle multiple users typing at once, which could get chaotic in a busy chat, but these are likely the sort of things that Apple is still trying to figure out.
While most modern messaging apps have long moved past the “presence” settings of apps like iChat and MSN Messenger that let you set statuses like “Online” and “Away” there is still room for status updates, especially in group chats.
It looks like Apple may be bringing the old-school “/me” command to iMessage, however, to allow users to share one-off status updates, which could be especially useful in group chats when needing an easy way to let others know that you might be unavailable or otherwise occupied.
New and Improved Mac App
Although Apple offers a Mac version of its Messages app, it’s lagged pretty far behind what the iOS apps are capable of, having not really received any major updates since iOS 10 began delivering new effects, handwriting, and stickers. macOS High Sierra gained the ability to make reactions and at least recognize the new iOS 10 features, but otherwise the Messages app on Mac has plodded along as a second-class citizen to its iOS brethren.
Thanks to Apple’s Project Catalyst, however, it looks like Apple will be able to bring a much more full-featured version of iMessage to the Mac, and there’s already been evidence found in macOS Catalina that it’s on the way. Since many of the new features Apple is testing for iMessage right now will need to come to the Mac, it probably makes more sense to unify the iOS and macOS app than release an update to the existing Mac app that’s already behind the times.