What Is iMessage?

Find out what iMessage is and how it works with Savvy’s useful guide.

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, updated on October 26th, 2023       

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What is iMessage

Messaging has become an essential part of our lives. It allows us to stay connected with friends and family, collaborate with colleagues and share our thoughts and experiences. In recent years, messaging apps have become increasingly widespread, offering a variety of features and services that make them even more useful and convenient. One of the most popular of these is Apple’s iMessage.

In this Savvy guide, we take a closer look at iMessage to help you understand how it works and its features, benefits and alternatives.

What is iMessage and how does it work?

iMessage is a popular messaging service developed by Apple that allows users to send text messages, images, videos and other files to other Apple users over the internet. iMessage is different from traditional SMS and MMS messaging in a number of ways:

  • iMessages are always sent over the internet, which means that they are not subject to the same message length and character limits as SMS and MMS messages.
  • iMessages are end-to-end encrypted, which means that only the sender and receiver can read them.
  • iMessages support a number of features that are not available in SMS and MMS messaging, such as read receipts, delivery notifications and typing indicators. 

iMessage was first released in 2011 and is available on all Apple devices, including the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac. It is also available on Apple Watch, but only for sending and receiving messages from other Apple Watch users. iMessages can be sent and received between any two Apple devices, regardless of the model or operating system. 

To use iMessage, you must have an Apple ID and be signed into iCloud on your device. Once you are signed in, you can start sending iMessages to other Apple users. You can also use iMessage to send messages to and receive messages from people who are not Apple users. However, these messages will be sent as SMS/MMS messages, which may be subject to per-message fees.

What are some iMessage features I should know about?

Message has a variety of features that can improve your messaging experience. Here are a few popular features:

  • Group chats: iMessage allows you to create group chats with up to 32 people. This is a great way to stay in touch with your friends and family, especially if they live in different places.
  • Read receipts: this lets you know when the recipient has read your message. This can be helpful for knowing when the recipient has received your message and if they’ve had a chance to read it yet.
  • App integration: iMessage is integrated with a number of other Apple apps, such as Photos, Music and Maps. This makes it easy to share content from other apps with your iMessage contacts. 
  • Stickers and GIFs: add stickers and GIFs to your iMessages to add personality and expression.
  • Effects: iMessage allows you to send messages with a variety of effects, such as balloons, confetti and lasers.
  • Digital Touch: Digital Touch is a feature that allows you to send sketches, taps and heartbeats to other iMessage users.
  • Memoji and Animoji: Memoji and Animoji are animated characters that you can create and use in your iMessages.
  • Siri: use Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, to send, read and reply to iMessages hands-free, without having to pick up your phone, type or tap.
  • Link previews: iMessage automatically generates previews of links that you send in your messages. This allows you to see what the link is to before you click it.
  • File sharing: you can send a variety of files, including photos, videos, documents, and more, directly within the app.
  • Search: iMessage allows you to search for messages, photos, videos and other files that you have shared in iMessages. This can be helpful for finding specific messages or files.

What are the benefits of using iMessage?

There are many benefits to using iMessage:

  • Free: iMessages are free to send and receive, as long as you have an internet connection – whether that’s a 4G connection or Wi-Fi. There are no per-message or monthly fees.
  • Fast and reliable: iMessages are delivered quickly and reliably, even if the recipient is in a different country.
  • Feature-rich: iMessage has a variety of features, such as group chats, read receipt, stickers, file sharing, and more.
  • Secure: iMessages are encrypted end-to-end, which means that only you and the recipient can read them.
  • Integrated with Apple ecosystem: iMessage is tightly integrated with other Apple devices and services, such as the iPhone, iPad, Mac and iCloud. This makes it easy to stay connected with your friends and family, no matter which device they are using.

What are some alternatives to iMessage?

iMessage is only available on Apple devices. If you're looking for a messaging service that is available on multiple platforms, here are a few alternatives to iMessage:

  • WhatsApp
  • Telegram
  • Signal
  • Google Messages
  • Facebook Messenger

These messaging services offer many of the same features as iMessage, such as group chats, read receipts and typing indicators. They are also all free to use.

Frequently asked questions about iMessage

Is iMessage free to use?

Yes – iMessage is free to use. It uses an internet connection, whether through Wi-Fi or mobile data, allowing users to send messages without incurring SMS or MMS charges. However, users should be aware of potential data charges, depending on their mobile plan

How can I use iMessage to communicate with non-Apple devices?

While iMessage is designed primarily for Apple devices, it also has the capability to send messages to non-Apple devices. When sending a message to a non-Apple user, iMessage automatically switches to SMS, ensuring that your message reaches its recipient. Keep in mind that standard SMS charges may apply when communicating with non-Apple devices.

How do I know if I'm sending an iMessage or an SMS/MMS message?

Sometimes your message might be sent as an SMS/MMS rather than an iMessage, perhaps because your recipient does not have an Apple device or an internet connection. To distinguish between the two:

  • iMessage: iMessages are sent and received over the internet, using your Wi-Fi or cellular data connection. iMessage messages are displayed in blue text bubbles.
  • SMS/MMS: SMS and MMS messages are sent and received over the cellular network. SMS messages are text messages, while MMS messages can also include photos and videos. SMS and MMS messages are displayed in green text bubbles.
Is iMessage available internationally?

Yes – iMessage is available in many countries and regions worldwide, making it a global messaging platform. This means you can use iMessage to communicate with Apple device users across the globe without any restrictions. This also means you can use it while travelling abroad without incurring roaming charges.

Do I need a lot of data to use iMessage?

iMessage uses data or Wi-Fi to send messages, so you don't need a significant amount of data to use it. Text-based messages use very little data, while sending photos, videos, and other media will consume more. However, it's generally much more efficient than traditional SMS/MMS messaging in terms of data usage. If you have limited data, it's still advisable to monitor your usage, especially if you send a lot of multimedia content.

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