Years ago, when the iMessage Store first debuted, I covered the best sticker packs every week in MacStories Weekly, our Club MacStories newsletter. It wasn’t long before I had more sticker packs than Messages could manage. Finding individual sticker packs became a chore, so I gradually stopped using them, except on rare occasions.
One of my favorite categories of sticker apps from those early days was apps that allowed me to make my own stickers from photos. However, the process was too laborious and fiddly to justify making more than a handful of my own stickers.
That’s changed with the release of Sticker Drop, a DIY sticker creation utility for the iPhone that leverages iOS 16’s new subject isolation technology for images. What sets Sticker Drop apart is how easy it is to make and manage your own stickers.
Fun story by Rachel Syme, writing for The New Yorker last week, on rediscovering the simple pleasure of sending audio messages (voice texts) to friends during the pandemic:
Voice texts (also called audio messages), by contrast, are text messages with a pulse, phone calls with none of the pressure; they are fizzy zaps of connection that demand little of the recipient except that she listen and enjoy before they’re gone. They are not a new feature—on iPhones, they launched as part of the iOS8 update, way back in 2014 (and users of WhatsApp have long communicated with a similar service). But voice texting has gained obvious new appeal during the past year of isolation. At the site nofilter, the reporter Kate Lindsay wrote that she had been prepared to dismiss voice texting as “a Gen Z (or, rather, z-lennial) fad. Then the pandemic hit, and before I knew it all my text message conversations were replaced with disappearing audio snippets.”
Audio messages have been the default communication method among my friends and family for the past several years (primarily via WhatsApp; no one I know here in Italy uses iMessage’s voice text UI since it’s, frankly, quite clunky). During the pandemic and through our various stages of lockdown, however, I’ve also rediscovered the joy of sending audio messages, which strike a nice balance between the immediacy of a text and the additional context of a phone call.
Apple introduced Business Chat at WWDC in 2017 and launched it with iOS 11.3 this past March. Today, Apple confirmed to TechRadar that the feature, which began as a beta with a handful of US business partners, has been rolled out worldwide.
As we explained in our overview of iOS 11.3:
Business Chat is a way for businesses to communicate with their customers directly over iMessage. Apple’s goal with Business Chat is to elevate the customer service experience to take advantage of the best native features of iOS, such as iMessage’s inherent privacy and security, iMessage apps, Apple Pay, and integration with Maps, Safari, and Spotlight.
Initially supported by only a handful of US companies like Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s and Wells Fargo, the roster was expanded in July to include Dish, Aramak, Four Seasons, Harry & David, and American Express. With today’s launch, that list has been expanded significantly to include companies based in Europe and Asia, as well as additional companies in North America. According to TechRadar, the additions include more than 30 companies:
- Matchesfashion (UK)
- nPower (UK)
- Robins & Day (UK)
- buddybank (Italy)
- Engie (France)
- La Redoute (France)
- AXA Insurance (Switzerland)
- Swisscom (Switzerland)
- Vodafone Germany
- NH Hotels (Europe)
- 1800 Contacts
- DirecTV Now
- Fairmont Hotels including the Claremont Club & Spa in Berkeley
- Kimpton Hotels
- Macerich Malls including Scottsdale Fashion Square and Santa Monica Place
- Mall of America
- Men’s Wearhouse
- Jos A. Bank
- Quicken Loans
- SnapTravel (US, Canada)
- West Elm
- Hendrick Automotive Group
- Four Seasons (Canada) is expanding to 88 properties around the globe, 100+ languages
- Lithia Group
- Telstra (Australia)
- Harvey Norman (Australia)
- KDDI (Japan)
- Credit Suisse (Singapore and Hong Kong)
Much like Apple Pay, Business Chat is the sort of feature that isn’t likely to see significant user adoption until a large enough pool of businesses use it to reach most iPhone owners. Still, today’s broad rollout in multiple countries shows that the service is beginning to get traction. It will also be interesting to see how much longer Business Chat retains the ‘beta’ label.
Wallpaper: Traces by AR72014
I live in Italy, but because of my work I communicate with friends and colleagues in English. All my devices are set to English, including Siri on our HomePods. As a multilingual iOS user, the addition of multilingual typing to the QuickType keyboard was, by far, one of my favorite changes in iOS 10. Besides being aware of the language used in each iMessage conversation, since 2016 the QuickType keyboard has been able to jump between multiple languages on the fly without switching keyboard layouts – which is amazing when you have conversations with people who live in different countries. I can’t believe there was a time when I was constantly switching between the Italian and English keyboards hundreds of times each day. For international users, it was as bad as not having copy and paste before iPhone OS 3.0.
With the release of Shortcuts and the ability to send iMessages in the background (without showing the Messages composer), I had an idea: what if instead of typing I could use dictation (also improved in Shortcuts) to quickly send a message from a widget? A shortcut to accomplish this seemed relatively easy to build, so I got to work. However, after a few minutes of tests, I realized that Shortcuts’ dictation didn’t support automatic language recognition – which meant I had to consider a more creative approach.
Apple launched iMessage Business Chat earlier this year as part of iOS 11.3, but at the time only a select few companies were signed on to support the feature. Four months later, we’re now starting to see the next Business Chat partners go live. Sarah Perez reports for TechCrunch:
In addition to Dish becoming the first TV provider to support Business Chat, Apple says it has also added four other brands, Aramak, Four Seasons, Harry & David, and American Express, in addition to five new technology platforms businesses can integrate with.
To this point Business Chat has primarily been deployed as a customer support solution, but with these new companies comes more diversity in how the feature is being used. In particular, I’m intrigued by what Aramark is doing with Business Chat as a customer service tool. Perez writes:
Aramak is piloting a 10-game “Brew2You” program at Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Fans will be able to scan a QR code on their seat back in three sections to order beer or water over iMessage, and have it delivered right to their seat.
Ordering drinks at a ball game is a perfect use case for Business Chat, and one I hope catches on with related markets, both sports and otherwise. Movie theaters, concerts, or Broadway shows that offer the ability to order refreshments from your seat would be another great fit.
I used Business Chat for the first time last week with Dish, and the service worked as advertised, offering a pain-free support experience that’s miles ahead of a traditional phone call or other web chat service. While expansion has gotten off to a slow start, I’m hopeful that with Apple targeting not just individual brands, but also large platforms like Cisco, it will be easy for more businesses to get on board sooner rather than later.
Today Apple released iOS 11.4, likely the final major release for the operating system before its successor, iOS 12, reaches the public in September. The update includes two major features that were originally revealed last June as iOS 11 features, but were later delayed: AirPlay 2 and Messages in iCloud.
When this morning’s news regarding iOS 11.3 made no mention of Messages in iCloud, many feared the feature was delayed indefinitely. But with the release of the first developer beta, it’s now been confirmed that Messages in iCloud is available in 11.3. Guilherme Rambo reports for 9to5Mac:
With the release of iOS 11.3 beta 1 and corresponding developer release notes, Apple announced that iOS 11.3 includes the Messages in iCloud feature. Messages will prompt users to turn on Messages in iCloud on first launch after upgrading to beta 1. Users with two-factor authentication and iCloud Backups enabled will get Messages in iCloud enabled automatically.
It’s not certain that Messages in iCloud will make its way into the public release of iOS 11.3, but its presence in the first beta is a positive sign at least.
First announced at WWDC last June as an iOS 11 feature, Messages in iCloud is just what it sounds like: all your Messages across all your devices are stored in iCloud and kept in sync. The feature was present throughout the iOS 11 beta cycle last summer, but was removed before iOS 11’s public release. I never had any issues with it during the beta season, but clearly some users did, causing Apple to delay the feature until its reappearance now.
Today YouTube’s iOS app received an update that includes the video service’s first iMessage app. The app only focuses on a single function – sharing videos – but it does well with that one thing, offering a robust sharing experience.
Upon opening the YouTube iMessage app, you’ll see a list of videos you’ve recently watched. This appears to pull videos directly from your full YouTube history, presenting a seemingly endless scrolling list of everything you’ve watched. Often iMessage apps contain a mere fraction of the information found in their parent apps, so I was expecting to only see a small number of recently watched videos listed; the ability to continue scrolling through my full history is a pleasant surprise. Another welcome addition is the inclusion of a search option. At the top of the iMessage app, you can search for any video on YouTube – either by text or by voice. Tapping the search box even reveals a list of your recent YouTube search queries.
When searching for the right video to share, YouTube’s iMessage app lets you view any video in full before sharing – just hit the vertically stacked dots on a video’s right hand side to find a Watch button. Once you’ve chosen a video to share, it will populate as an iMessage card that can be sent to friends, and they’ll be able to watch the video without ever leaving the iMessage conversation.
YouTube is a solid demonstration of a rich iMessage experience. Even though its purpose is limited to sharing videos, it offers access to everything you might want before sharing – your full watch history, a search option with recent search queries listed, and even the ability to watch a video inside iMessage before you send it. iMessage app developers take note: just because your app serves a single purpose doesn’t mean it has to be a bare-bones experience.
It has been nearly a full year since Craig Federighi introduced the iMessage App Store to developers at WWDC. Coming out of that keynote, it was easy to guess that sticker packs might become a hit with users, but the big unknown surrounded the idea of more powerful iMessage apps. Would anyone actually want to use iMessage for anything more than basic messaging?
The challenge with creating a great iMessage app is similar in ways to that of creating a great Apple Watch app. In most cases it requires taking an existing app and stripping functionality down to its simplest form, while still retaining the overall usefulness and power of the full app. And as is true with Watch apps, some iMessage apps tackle the challenge well, while others fail to be useful due to slow or overcomplicated interfaces.
The first year of the iMessage App Store has been dominated by stickers, but amidst the crazy sharks and flaming pizza, there are a number of interesting and creative apps serving as helpful utilities as well. I have tried out iMessage apps for ordering food, managing files, sharing calendars, sending payments, planning meetings, and more. What follows is a list of some of my favorites.