A Guide to iMessage

17 April 2013

Unless you’re on a plan with the bonus of unlimited texting, SMS and MMS can quickly add up (especially if you’re texting someone overseas, but more on that later). More than two trillion texts are sent each year in the United States - generating over $20 billion dollars in annual revenue for carriers. However, the American wireless market is seeing a steady decline in the amount of text messages sent by customers each month, and it's all thanks to internet-based messaging services.

There’s no disputing that phone users (especially of younger generations, where its use has surpassed that of making voice calls) love the convenience of text messaging. Seizing on the popularity of text messaging (also called SMS), you can now find messaging applications for every operating system that can be used instead of traditional SMS. While there are numerous apps you can download, Apple users have embraced the company’s own iMessage application, which is built into Apple devices.

iMessage works between Apple devices - iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running iOS 5 or higher, and Apple Macs running Mountain Lion software. iMessage is pretty similar to regular text messaging, with the big difference being that it uses your device’s data connection to send and receive messages (so through Wifi or cellular data such as 3G), rather than using your carrier’s network service. Unlike standard text messaging, iMessage doesn’t cost anything to use, even when sending messages overseas. It does, however, use your data connection, so messages sent and received will come out of your data allowance when not using Wifi (but we stress that text messages don’t use much data at all, so if you pay for your texts iMessage is definitely the cheaper option).

You can use iMessage to send texts, photos, videos, contact and locations to other Apple users, and it can be synced across all your Apple devices if you own more than one. So even if you don’t own an iPhone, you can still send and receive messages from your iPad or iPod Touch if it’s running iOS 5 or higher. There’s also the option of sending out group messages and multimedia – when one person replies, everyone sees it, which is not the case through standard text messaging.

Users can also nominate whether they would like iMessage to automatically revert back to sending an SMS in case of message failure, or toggle between the two options. It’s obvious whether you’ve sent a standard text or an iMessage, as SMS messages are in a green bubble while iMessages are blue.

How to set it up:

All you need to have to set up iMessages is an Apple ID, which most people will set up when they first purchase their iDevice and install iTunes. If you’re already using i0S 5 or higher, you were probably prompted to turn iMessages on when you first updated. But if you need some guidance:

  • Go to Settings and select Messages (this applies to iPads and iPods as well as the iPhone).
  • You may be prompted to enter your Apple ID, or create one if you haven’t already.
  • Slide the iMessage option to On.
  • If you only own an iPhone, you can leave it there. If you want people to send messages to your Apple ID and not just your phone number, or you’re using an iPod or iPad, go to Send and Receive or Received At, depending what operating system you’re running, and enter your Apple ID and any additional address you’d like to be reached at.
  • You can select whether you’d like to enable other options, such as SMS messaging and group messaging (depending on your OS) and if you’d like to show a subject field or the character count.
  • You can also elect if you’d like to enable Read Receipts, meaning whomever you’re messaging will be able to see when you’ve read their last message.

Once you’re all set up, just compose your message as you would normally. If your contact also uses iMessage, your device will figure this out all by itself and switch from an SMS to an iMessage without your prompting. If they don’t, your message will go through as a regular text. If you’re using an iPad or iPod and enter an address or phone number of someone who doesn’t use iMessage, the name will be highlighted red with an exclamation point and you won’t be able to send them anything (as you can’t send SMS through these devices).


Even for consumers with unlimited texting as part of their plan, iMessage features several benefits. The fact that is automatic and fully integrated into Apple’s OS means that a lot of people who would never download a separate messaging app will use the feature, often without even realising it. The fact that it supports message sync between all of a user’s Apple devices will also sway a lot of customers, and allow iPod Touch users who don’t have iPhones an easy way to communicate with friends and family.

It’s a great option for users wanting to stay in touch with other Apples users overseas – considering the standard price of international text messaging, the savings can speak for themselves if you love texting family and friends abroad.

You can add extra email so contacts can use these to reach you via iMessage; messages will all go to your phone and any linked devices, but people won’t need to know your phone number or Apple ID. Using email is obviously essential when messaging an iPad or iPod Touch, and the fact that you can hide your phone number from contacts but still carry on a text conversation via your iPhone is a nice lure for the privacy conscious. This also makes life easier if you’re headed overseas and plan to swap your SIM to an international one to avoid roaming fees - although you’ll have a different phone number, you’ll still receive iMessages sent to your email or Apple ID. And as mentioned above, you’ll obviously save on the cost of text messaging back home (assuming you’ve got a good deal on data use, or are using free Wifi).

Small quirks, such as the ability to see if someone has read your message and at what time, and the appearance of a grey ‘thought bubble’ letting you know when someone is composing a reply, are a nice touch when carrying on a long conversation.


Before you use iMessage, there are a few potential problems that could occur.

If you’re using a jail broken phone (meaning you’ve downloaded software to modify your phone, so that you can install applications that are not released through Apple or the App Store), you may have issues trying to activate iMessage or send messages. There are various solutions to this problem floating around the Internet, although it looks like you may have to try a few different methods to find one that will resolve the issue.

Another potential source of mortification and a possible security risk is reports of iMessages going astray between users sharing iTunes accounts or when moving SIM cards from one phone to another. Owners of pre-loved iPhones are finding themselves receiving messages intended for the previous owner, while former owners may still get iMessages from the phone’s new users on the new Apple devices.

However, Apple has fixed this error with its iOS 6 update, now forcing users to enter their Apple ID password to use iMessage if any of their ID details change – meaning unless thieves or new owners know your Apple password, they won’t be able to access your messages. So if your Apple device changes hands, with or without your knowledge or permission, simply change your Apple ID password and the new owner won’t receive any of your iMessages. Remotely wiping your phone or changing the SIM will reportedly also cause the phone to stop receiving iMessages with the iOS 6 update.

Of course, there’s also the argument that messaging apps are useless when you already have unlimited texting, but as this usually doesn’t apply overseas or with MMS, iMessage still outweighs standard text messages.

Other Apps

Unlike external third party apps, iMessage is built into Apple’s iPhone normal texting application and can be turned on by default , so it’s easy enough to use even for the less technologically savvy among us. But if you’re looking for an easy, free way to stay in touch with contacts across all platforms, there are several great messaging apps available that will work across all operating systems. WhatsApp is probably the most popular – it’s similar to iMessage in that it utilises your phone’s Wifi or data connection to send and receive messages, but is compatible with iPhones, Android and Windows Phone operated devices, Nokia/Symbian phones and Blackberrys. So if you’ve got a lot of contacts who don’t use Apple, it could be a worthwhile download for you and your friends and family – it’s currently free to download and run for the first year, after which a US $0.99 one-time fee will be charged.

Similar apps include Touch (formerly known as PingChat!), Viber for both texts and calls, and Kik Messenger, most of which are free to download.

So, to sum up – iMessage lets you do everything your phone’s regular Messages app does, plus more, without using your plan’s text allowance. It’s totally free and already integrated with your phone if you’re using iOS 5 or higher – all you really have to do to switch it to ‘On’ and it’ll automatically start sending your texts as iMessages. And now that Apple has created a fix for its major security bug in iOS 6, there are more pros than cons, and it’s an excellent option for staying in touch when overseas if you have access to Wifi or cheap data.



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