Apple is introducing an overhaul of one of our most-used apps on the iPhone, the Messages app. Alongside notable tweaks, like the ability to view transcribed voice messages and an interface change that hides away iMessage apps, the company is also introducing new features, like the safety-focused “Check In” option that will allow iPhone users to let their friends and family know they got home safely — or where they were last.
Combined, the improvements to Messages will deliver a sizable quality-of-life update to iPhone users, though individually they are more minor upgrades.
Among the other changes, Messages is also getting a faster and more convenient search experience which now lets you start a search, then narrow things down with Search Filters to find exactly what you’re looking for, says Apple. And a new “catch-up” option will help you quickly jump to the first message you haven’t seen in your group chats — handy for those buzzier groups you have on mute, perhaps. Plus, inline replies to messages are now easier as you can just swipe on any chat bubble to start a reply.
Another big improvement is the ability to view a transcription of voice messages — a feature that’s always been more convenient for the sender than the recipient, who doesn’t always have time to listen. Now, these messages are transcribed so you can read them instead, if you don’t have time or a quiet place to play them back, for example.
In addition to the new Check In, location sharing now can be displayed right in the conversation. However, Check In takes location sharing a step further, as it’s designed with user safety in mind. While often people will tell a friend to let them know if they got home safely, Check In can help automate this process, by tracking the user then notifying the friend when they arrive home.
If you’re walking home after dark or going for an early morning run, you can start checking in with a family member or friend to let them know when you get home, Apple says. As soon as you arrive, Check In automatically detects that you’re home and lets your friend know without any additional steps required, so you won’t forget. However, if something happens on your way home and you stop making progress toward your destination, your friends will know.
If that’s the case, friends will be able automatically to view useful information such as their friend’s current location and the route they took with this feature. They’ll also be able to view other relevant information, like cell service status or phone battery level, to see if a friend can take your call or not. All the information shared is end-to-end encrypted, Apple says.
Another big change to the Message app’s overall design is how it now tucks away iMessage apps. Previously right above the keyboard, they’ve been relocated to be tucked in under a plus sign. Here, you’ll see things like buttons to share your photos, audio messages, and location. When you swipe up, you’ll see all your iMessage apps there.
The apps’ relocation is an indication that Apple is moving away from iMessage apps as core to the texting experience, it seems, relegating them to a distant spot in the app’s user interface.
What’s more exciting is that this new menu will also include a new stickers experience where you can access your stickers all in one place. Building on a photo cutout feature introduced last year, you can even lift subjects from your own photos and turn them into stickers. When a Live photo is the source, Apple is calling these “Live Stickers.” These stickers can also include effects that bring them to life and a keyboard draw that make them easier to access across iOS, meaning you can use them in third-party apps as well. Plus, Apple says they can be added to any bubble from the tapback menu.
One of the more interesting changes wasn’t detailed during the live keynote. A new “Sensitive Content Warning” feature will help adult users avoid seeing unwanted nude images and videos, based on similar technology behind the teen anti-sexting feature, Communication Safety.
AirDrop was improved, too, with the addition of a new feature called “NameDrop” which lets two people exchange information by bringing their iPhones together, or by bringing an iPhone and Apple Watch together. This same gesture can be used to share content or start a SharePlay session.
Other updates in the OS include improvements to autocorrect and dictation, the introduction of a full-screen smart display experience for when the phone is on its side (“StandBy), a new Journal app for writing diary entries that remain encrypted, plus updates to the Phone app, with Contact Posters and Live Voicemail; as well as FaceTime, with support for audio and video messages, reactions, and more.