The Messages app on the iPhone allows you to send simple text messages, photos, GIFs and much more to your friends. The app icon is green with a white speech bubble and is likely to be one of the first icons on your iPhone screen. You’ll find the same icon on your iPad screen, and there’s also a Messages app on the Mac – except this time the icon is Blue (although that’s set to change in macOS Big Sur).
If you’re a text messaging novice wanting to communicate with the grandkids, an SMS superstar new to the iPhone, or just wondering about the latest features in the Messages app, you’ve come to the right place. This article explains how to send an SMS, text message, iMessage or group message on an iPhone, and offers tips on sharing your location, photos, GIFs, videos and more.
For troubleshooting advice, take a look at How to send a text when iMessage isn’t working and also try Why is my iPhone not sending messages? And if you don’t want to send it quite yet, here’s how to schedule text messages.
How to send an SMS or iMessage
Let’s start with the basics. Here’s how to send an SMS, text or iMessage from your iPhone, in five easy steps.
- Open the Messages app on your iPhone. The icon looks like this:
- Either tap on a message chain with the person you wish to reply to (then jump to step 4), or tap on the square icon in the top right.
- Type in the name of the person you wish to message (you’ll see autocomplete options if they’re in your contacts) or their phone number or iMessage email address.
- Tap in the text field and type your message.
- Tap the blue or green arrow beside the text field to send your message. The colour of the arrow tells you whether you’re going to send a text or iMessage.
What’s the difference between a text message and an iMessage?
Within Messages there are actually two types of message: texts and iMessages.
You send text messages to friends who don’t have iPhones. These appear in green speech bubbles.
iMessages – a special form of message you can send to and receive from friends who have iPhones (or other Apple devices) if you’ve got data – will appear in blue speech bubbles. iMessages are sent using Apple’s servers so they use a data connection rather than the mobile network.
Be aware that if you’re sending a lot of texts to friends who don’t have iPhones you could be paying to send them. Most mobile phone contracts include a number of free text messages a month, but if yours is limited you might want to avoid using Apple’s Messages app to send messages to friends who don’t have iPhones. It’s okay, you can still message them – we just suggest you use a cross-platform messaging app such as WhatsApp instead.
How to find messages quickly
If you are frustrated by having to rummage around or search through your list of messages to find a particular conversation every time you wish to contribute to the chat you should update to iOS 14.
A new feature in iOS 14 is the ability to bookmark up to nine different conversations, either with individuals or group chats. You can pin these conversations to the top of Messages in the form of large icons.
- Pin conversations are synced across all your devices that have the Messages app.
- To pin a conversation you can either swipe from left to right on it in the list.
- Press the yellow button with a pin icon that appears.
- Alternatively press and hold the message and select Pin.
- The conversation will then end up in the area at the top where all pinned conversations reside.
You can have a up to nine pinned conversations, which on the iPhone takes up a large part of the screen when you open the app.
How to keep messages synced across your devices
It’s simple to keep all your messages in sync across all your devices, back up photos and attachments sent to you via iMessage, save space on your iPhone, iPad and Mac, and access your entire message history on any device anywhere. Here’s how.
Note that you’ll need to be running iOS 11.4 or later, and macOS 10.13.4 or later.
Syncing messages on iPhone and iPad
- Go to Settings > Apple ID > iCloud.
- Turn on Messages.
You will need two-factor authentication enabled, and to be connected to Wi-Fi so your Messages history can upload to iCloud.
After the initial sync, everything should always stay up to date – as long as you’re connected to the internet.
Syncing messages on Mac
- Go to Messages > Preferences.
- Click on the box beside Enable Messages in iCloud.
For more information on this subject, read How to back up Messages in iCloud.
How to send group messages
If you have a group of friends or family members who own iPhones it’s easy to send group messages. This means you don’t have to send the same message to each person individually, you can message them all at once – and best of all, any replies will go to everyone in the group.
- Open the Messages app.
- From the conversations view, tap the square icon at the top right.
- Start typing the name of a friend, and select it when autosuggested. Then start typing another, and so on.
- As long as all the names stay blue you’ll be able to send the message as a group chat, and any replies will go to everyone on the list.
- If even one of the contacts turns green, you won’t be able to hold a group chat over iMessage. In that case, it’s back to WhatsApp again (or just leave that person out). iOS does let you send out a message to multiple recipients even if they’re not all on iMessage, but they will each receive it as a standard message – replying to it would reply only to you.
You can also add a new person to a group chat that had already started. Here’s how:
- Go to your group conversation.
- Tap details.
- Then tap Add Contact.
There are a few new features that apply to group conversations in iOS 14, including the following:
How to reply to group message threads in iOS 14
In iOS 14 you can reply to a comment in a group message. Here’s how:
- Press and hold on the message you want to reply to and select Reply to start the reply thread.
- Replies are hidden in the reply thread, but you can read them by clicking on the text “X Replies” that appears in the original message.
- You will also see the exchange in the conversation at the point at which it happened.
For those who have updated to iOS 14 or any of the other new systems, answers in the conversation are displayed along with the message it was a response to.
How to do @ mentions
iOS 14 also adds gain the ability to mention other people and thereby attract their attention in a message thread.
You do not need to use the @ symbol to name someone, it is enough to enter the person’s name and press it when it turns grey, but if you use an @ before their name it will automatically turn the name into a mention.
How to stop notifications for a group chat
You can also mute group conversations that are getting too noisy. And if you’re fed up with getting pinging alerts from a group conversation, you can leave it at any point. To do so:
- Open the group conversation.
- Tap Details.
- Scroll down and then tap Leave this Conversation.
Another way to turn off notifications for a conversation is to swipe left on it, and press the purple button with a crossed-out bell (illogically while the bell is crossed it seems to signify that it will notify you). That particular chat will show a crescent moon to show that it is set not to disturb you.
There’s also a handy setting where you can turn off notifications on a Group Chat but still get notified if you are mentioned. Do this by going to Settings > Messages. Here you will find a Notify Me setting to always receive notifications if someone mentions you.
More subtly, you can mute group conversations on a per-thread basis – the rest of your messages will carry on generating normal notifications, but your iPhone won’t buzz to let you know any further updates to this conversation. Again, go to Details, then turn the ‘Do Not Disturb’ slider on (it will appear green).
It’s possible to leave an iMessage group chat entirely as well as to mute the notifications. We look at that in a separate article: How to leave a group text on iPhone.
How to set a name and picture for group chats
You can give your group chat a name and select an image to represent it so you can easily distinguish it from other conversations.
You can select a photo, a memoji, an animoji, an emoji or just a letter as an icon. You can also select the background colour of the chat.
Users who have not updated to iOS 14 will not see the new icon, but for those who have updated, your changes will appear for all participants.
- To change the image for your group chat tap on the message and then tap at the top where it says X People.
- Now tap on i for Info.
- Here you will see the option to Change Name and Photo. Tap on that.
- You can now enter a group name and change the image. That image will now appear as the icon at the top of your Messages.
How to add emoji and animations to messages
By using emoji you can add a little lightheartedness to your messages, a wink to say ‘I’m not having a go, really’ or a smily face with tears to indicate that you are ‘laughing out loud’ (not in floods of tears – this could get confusing!)
Since the release of iOS 10 Apple has made it really easy to use emoji by autosuggesting the emoji you could supplement for a word: type ‘rabbit’, for example, and a picture of a rabbit will appear as one of the predictive text suggestions. You’ll need to have predictive text turned on in Settings > General > Keyboards for this to work.
You can also use this predictive feature after you’ve composed your message. If you tap on the emoji icon on the keyboard (the smiley face) the words that have emoji associated with them will turn orange. Just tap on the red word to automatically change it to the emoji. If you don’t want to overwrite the word with the emoji you could just tap beside the word in the normal keyboard view and then tap on that emoji to have it added to your message beside the word.
If you are using iOS 14 it’s even easier to search for emoji. In the past you either had to type words and see if a suitable emoji appeared for that word, or you had to scroll through all the options available in the emoji keyboard. Now there is a search box so you can find the emoji you are after.
To find out more, read How to use emoji on iPhone, iPad & Mac
If you’ve got an iPhone X, XR, XS, XS Max you also get access to Animoji, cartoon characters that mimic your expressions and movements as you speak so you can record messages for your friends. Find out how to use Animoji.
How to add animations
If you want your text messages to stand out there are a variety of ways you can do so. Make sure that the recipient will notice and remember your message so they have no excuses not to pay attention to your texts!
First up, there are animated effects:
- First, write your message. But instead of tapping the blue arrow to send your iMessage, tap and hold the arrow (or use a Force Press, if you’ve got a iPhone with 3D Touch) instead.
- You’ll be presented with four options: slam, loud, gentle, and invisible ink.
- Slam, as the name suggests, places the message in your conversation with a slap-on effect animation.
- Loud wiggles the message and enlarges the font.
- Gentle writes the message in a small font and then slowly reverts back to the default size font.
- Invisible ink hides the message so that your receiver has to swipe across the message to reveal it – useful for surprises or sensitive information you wish to share.
You can also add a fullscreen animation to your messages. To do this, follow these steps:
- Write your message and tap and hold the blue arrow button.
- At the top you’ll see tabs labelled Bubble and Screen. Tap Screen.
- Swipe left to cycle through the available animations, including Echo, Spotlight, Balloons, Confetti, Love, Lasers, Fireworks, Shooting Star and Celebration.
- Once you’ve found the effect you like, tap on the blue arrow to send it.
If you’re able to send the various message animations but can’t receive them, it might be because you have turned on Reduce Motion in Settings. Here’s how to disable that feature:
- Head to Settings > Accessibility > Reduce Motion and make sure it’s toggled off.
- If it still doesn’t work toggle iMessage off and on in the Settings menu, which should kick-start those message animations. This can be done by heading to Settings > Messages and toggling iMessage off and on.
You can also send sketches in your Messages using Digital Touch.
- To activate this feature tap on the A icon left-hand side of the text field box and then tap on the icon that looks like a heart.
- You’ll be presented with a small black pallet allowing you to draw or send animated gestures.
- Luckily you can make this small black pallet a little larger, which is better if you did want to scribble a message. To do so, tap on the Video Camera icon and then (assuming you don’t want to send what’s on camera) tap on the X to close the camera.
- Now you can scribble away in a variety of colours selected from the palette above.
If you tap on the i in the bottom right corner you can see a reminder of all the Digital Touch gestures, such as how to send a fireball, kiss or heartbeat.
You also have the option to take a photo, so you could scribble over the photo to illustrate something or to add a message.
How to send photos, videos and GIFs in a message
If you want to send a photo (or for that matter a video) to a friend via the Messages app, you can do so very easily.
- Open Messages and enter your contact’s details.
- Tap the camera icon to the left-hand side of your text box and the camera will activate. You’ll see a live stream in the central panel; you can take selfies by tapping the ‘flip’ icon at the top-right of that panel.
- When you tap the shutter button, a message will be generated with the photo in; you can add a comment or send it on its own. Tap the photo in the message to see it fullscreen, and to make edits or mark up the image.
- To the right of the live feed you’ll see the two most recent photos in your Camera Roll; swipe left to see more. Alternatively, you can tap Photos on the left to browse through albums.
There’s a second way to send a photo (or video): from inside the Photos app.
- From inside the Photos app find the photo you want to send to a friend.
- Tap on that photo to open it.
- Then tap on the Share icon (the square with an arrow).
- Now choose Message.
- And finally enter the name of the person you wish to send the photo to.
Find and delete images in Messages
Since Messages was updated for iOS 8, it has been really easy to find every image and attachment in a Message conversation. All attachments are now organised in one place. Tap on the i in the top right to access ‘Details’.
It’s a great way to view all the attachments from a busy conversation at once, and far easier to delete images and attachments if you wish to free up space on your iPhone (press and hold on an image in Details view and then choose More, and tap on each photo you wish to delete to ‘delete all’.
Read How to free up space on an iPhone to find out more.
How to add an iMessage photo to the Photos app
Photos sent via iMessage don’t automatically go to the Photos app (unlike in WhatsApp). If you want to add a photo to your Photo Library, follow these steps:
- Tap on the image to open it.
- Tap on the Share icon in the bottom left corner.
- Tap on Save Image.
How to send GIFs in Messages
Here’s what to do if you want to send a GIF to illustrate something in Messages. Perhaps you want to show someone exactly what you think of their last message by tapping into a celebrity reaction to a similar occurrence.
- Open a message.
- Tap on the app icon.
- Swipe until you get to the images and videos screen, or tap on the red icon with the magnifying glass.
- Type the word you wish to illustrate into the search field.
- Choose the GIF that best illustrates what you want to say.
If you’re lost for inspiration, tap on Find images and scroll through the Categories. For each category you select, once that word is in the search box another tap inside the box will bring up more suggestions of related words and phrases.
How to send music in messages
You can also send music via Messages – although the recipient will need an Apple Music account to listen. Otherwise they will get a Buy Song on iTunes link or a Subscribe to Apple Music link.
- Tap on the App Store icon next to the text message field.
- You will see all the recently played tracks.
- Scroll through until you find the one you want to share.
If you tap on the track name it will open in Music app and play (assuming you own the track). If you tap on the circle with the triangle in it, it will play a preview of the tune.
How to send a voice text message
A new feature that arrived back in iOS 8 was the ability to send short audio messages instead of typing out text. This is particularly popular among non-English speakers. Here’s how:
- Touch and hold on the microphone icon beside the text box to record your message.
- Don’t let go until you have finished speaking.
- You can play back the message by tapping the Play icon beside the message recording. If you don’t like it, tap on the X to delete.
- When you are ready to send, tap on the arrow.
There’s an even easier way:
- Simply hold your device up to your ear.
- Wait until you hear a ‘peep’ and speak.
- Put the phone back down to automatically send the recording (otherwise tap on the arrow to send it.
If you want to hear a message someone else has recorded for you:
- Simply hold the iPhone up and listen to it like it’s a phone call, in a lovely, neat bit of gesture control.
- Or press the blue arrow beside the recording.
- You can immediately speak your reply into the iPhone once the original is finished, and as soon as you lower the phone it will be sent.
How to share your location
Since iOS 8 you have been able to share your location in a conversation, and you can automatically share your location with every text you send in a conversation (this can be set to turn off after one hour or at the end of the day). Here’s how:
- Open a Message and enter the recipient’s details.
- Tap on the i in the top right corner.
- Tap on Send My Current Location, or Share My Location.
- If you choose to Send My Current Location it will send a link to where you are that the recipient can open in Apple Maps.
- If you choose to Share My Location you will have the option of ‘Share for One Hour,’ ‘Share Until End of Day,’ or ‘Share Indefinitely.’ If you do this you location will also be shared in Find My Friends.
Another way to share your location with someone is by sharing from a maps app (this works in Apple Maps or Google Maps).
- Open your Maps app.
- Tap on the icon that represents where you are.
- Choose Share your location.
- Tap on Message.
- Enter the recipient’s details and tap on send.
How to know when a message was sent
It’s hard to believe but before iOS 7 it was actually tricky to know when a message was sent because not every message was time stamped. Now to see what time a message was sent, just swipe to the left.
How to Like a message
Tapback in Messages is a little bit like Facebook’s Like options. To use the feature, follow these steps:
- Double tap on an iMessage you’ve received.
- You’ll be presented with a heart, thumbs up, thumbs down, ‘Haha’, two exclamation marks, and a question mark.
- Tap on the response you like.
This enables you to quickly respond to a message without having to type any text.
Choose Haha to show your friend that you were amused, or a thumbs up to show approval. There’s even a question mark if you’re puzzled by their message.