Everything you need to know about iMessage

Apple's instant-messaging service offers a compelling alternative to SMS.

iMessage icon

We’re reader-supported and may be paid when you visit links to partner sites. We don’t compare all products in the market, but we’re working on it!

While traditional SMS is still the default form of text communication for many mobile phone users, Apple's iMessage has become an increasingly popular alternative. Functionally similar to standard SMS, iMessage uses the Internet to facilitate text conversations between mobile users, thus removing SMS costs in favour of a small amount of data.

How does iMessage work?

Since iOS 5, iMessage has been incorporated into the Messages app on all iOS devices, as well as on all Mac computers running OS X Mountain Lion or later. Sending an iMessage works in the same way as sending an SMS, the only noticeable difference being that conversation bubbles for iMessages inside the Messages app are blue, while SMS bubbles are green.

The catch with iMessage is that it can only be used to communicate with other iOS users also using iMessage. However, if you try to send an iMessage to a non-iOS user, it will be automatically converted into a traditional SMS and sent that way instead. This is where the distinction between blue and green conversation bubbles is helpful.

What advantages does iMessage have over SMS?

While the original pitch for iMessage centred on how it saved you the cost of an SMS, these days most mobile providers include unlimited texts in their plans, making the cost-benefit of iMessage less compelling. That said, iMessage still offers plenty of other advantages over traditional texting. For instance:

File support

iMessage allows you to send not just text and images, but also videos, documents and any other file stored on your iOS device or Mac computer. With iOS 10, you can also send sketches drawn using the Digital Touch canvas within the Messages app, as well as add animated effects such as confetti and fireworks to your text messages.

Device-agnostic conversations

Conversations in iMessage aren't bound to a single device. If you switch from your iPhone to your iPad, for example, you can pick up all your conversations right where you left off, including the full chat history, so you can check what you've already said.

Read receipts and typing indicators

Provided that the person to whom you're sending an iMessage has enabled "read receipts", you can see when they've read your message and be confident it hasn't vanished into the digital ether. You can also tell when the other person is typing; a helpful ellipsis indicator lets you know that your correspondent hasn't up and left you mid-conversation.


SMS technology was developed back when data security wasn't such a priority for the average person. As such, anything sent over SMS is vulnerable to interception and spoofing, potentially leading to identity theft and other malicious activity. However, messages sent through iMessage are secured using AES-128 encryption, with every device you access iMessage on using a different encryption key for added protection. If you're going to be sending confidential information or important files, iMessage is far superior to SMS.

What are the limitations of iMessage?

As useful as iMessage is, it isn't without its limitations. The most prominent of these is its restriction to Apple devices; Android owners have to look elsewhere to fulfil their instant messaging needs.

The other major caveat is the need for an Internet connection. To use iMessage, your mobile plan must include a monthly data allowance, while sending an SMS is possible with any standard mobile plan. Since adding on data typically increased the cost of your mobile plan, this can make iMessage a less attractive proposition for some users.

What other apps support iMessage?

Along with the built-in Messages app on iOS and OS X, Apple has opened up the iMessage service to allow other apps to make use of its functionality. Apple's Music app, for instance, allows you to share recently-played songs with your friends through iMessage, while the iTranslate app lets you communicate through iMessage with people who speak a different language.

You can search for iMessage-enabled apps by starting a new iMessage and tapping the App Store icon next to the input field. You'll then be shown a section of the App Store dedicated to iMessage-enabled apps.

As of March 2017, app research firm Sensor Tower estimates that there are nearly 5,000 iMessage-enabled apps available on the App Store.

Latest mobile headlines

More guides on Finder

  • Ecovacs Deebot U2 Pro review

    The Ecovacs Deebot U2 Pro impresses with its pet hair friendly larger dustbin, but has issues with basic navigation that make it a little challenging to use every day.

  • MoneyMe Freestyle Virtual Mastercard

    Get $250 credit back when you meet the eligibility requirements and 55 days interest-free on purchases.

  • Apple MacBook Air M1 review

    Apple's most affordable "Apple Silicon" laptop is an impressively powerful device in a very familiar body and an easy upgrade recommendation.

  • CommSec vs SelfWealth

    We rate the fees and features of both online brokers.

  • Apple MacBook Pro 13 M1 review

    Apple's first MacBook Pro with its own Apple Silicon is a fast performer, but an unchanged design and small differences between it and the cheaper Air make it a tougher recommendation.

  • Apple HomePod Mini review

    Apple brings some serious audio oomph to the affordable speaker space with the HomePod Mini, although it's still best suited for heavy Apple ecosystem users thanks to the strong integration with Apple Music.

  • Apple iPad Air 2020 review

    Apple has shifted the value proposition of the iPad Air from being the "fancy" basic iPad to the "low cost" iPad Pro, but the regular iPad is still going to be enough for most people.

  • How to use Zoom for beginners

    Learn how to use Zoom so your next virtual meeting runs smoothly.

  • Apple iPhone 12 mini review

    Apple’s iPhone 12 mini lives up to its name, delivering plenty of power in a truly pocket-sized phone. Predictably, the price you pay is in battery life.

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com.au:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com.au is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder only provides general advice and factual information, so consider your own circumstances, or seek advice before you decide to act on our content. By submitting a question, you're accepting our Terms of Use, Disclaimer & Privacy Policy and Privacy & Cookies Policy.
Go to site