Apple gets the Message, overhauls chat app

SAN FRANCISCO — With mobile messaging services growing in use and importance, Apple is overhauling its Messages app.

Messages is getting new animations and larger emoji. Users will be able to handwrite messages on their screens and easily replace written words with emojis that express the same ideas.

Perhaps most importantly, Apple is opening up Messages to developers, allowing users to do things like send friends money, access custom stickers or send bespoke animations from within the app.

“We thought when it comes to expressing yourself we wanted to tap into the creativity of all you developers,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said Monday during the opening presentation at the company’s annual developer conference.

The new features in Messages will be a part of iOS 10, a new version of the software underlying the iPhone and iPad, which Apple unveiled Monday. Apple will offer the software as a free download this fall.

With the new version of Messages, users will be able to send enlarged text or shrunken text to make particular points. They’ll be able to mask messages using a feature called “invisible ink”; recipients will be able to read them by swiping across the message. Users will also be able to doctor up pictures with stamps or handwritten messages.

The updated version of Messages also will allow users to send effects that light up an entire screen. And it will allow users to send — and allow their users to listen to — songs from Apple Music within the app.

It’s not entirely clear what features developers will create for messages, but Federighi showed off some possibilities. He showed how a user might be able to send cash to a friend using Square Cash or doctor up an animation from JibJab with pictures from their friends.

Other messaging apps already support some of the features that are coming to Messages.

Apple’s update of Messages follows similar moves by Google, Facebook and Microsoft. All three have made efforts to turn their messaging apps into platforms.

But it wasn’t clear whether Apple is going as far as its rivals. Those companies have encouraged the development of “bots” — automated programs that allow users to book hotel rooms, schedule flights or purchase tickets from inside their messaging apps. In some cases, those bots will monitor users’ conversations and prompt them to create calendar entries or book trips.

Bringing apps and bots inside messaging systems has the potential to upend the smartphone market in much the same way that web apps helped change the PC market. If users can get much of what they want done inside a particular messaging app, it may no longer matter what kind of smartphone they have — or what native applications are available for that smartphone in its app store.

 

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