The Messages app on iPhone and iPad is one of the most useful applications for keeping in touch with friends, family and co-workers. By exploring the nuances of Apple’s text messaging app, you can learn how maximize the usefulness. Neither iOS device comes with an extensive manual, but we can help fill the void. Below you’ll find our easy to use guide to Messages. Think of it as a Master Class covering everything from the basics to advanced features. There is something for everyone in our ultimate guide to Messages. Whether you are looking to learn about every feature or need an answer to a specific question, you can find it quickly using our table of contents that links directly to a topic of interest. If you are new to iPhone or looking to find the answer to a specific question, the ultimate Messages guide has got you covered. Let the master class begin!

Messages Ultimate Guide

What’s the difference between SMS, MMS and iMessage

If you own an iPhone, the Messages app acts as your text or SMS messages application, similar to those on other platforms. It allows you to send standard SMS (which stands for short message service) text messages to any phone number. It’s also MMS (multimedia message service) capable, so you can send photos to any wireless phone that supports it. Any smartphone will support both. When you send an SMS or MMS, it will count towards the allotment you have through your wireless carrier. The Messages app can also be used to send iMessages. These are text and photo messages which can be sent to any iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac that has iMessage enabled.

Here are the benefits of iMessage:

  • Does not count towards your monthly allotment of text or picture messages
  • Allows you to send messages to and from iOS devices that do not offer cellular capability (iPad, iPod touch)
  • Advanced features like read receipt, quick audio/video messages

How to setup iMessage on iPhone, iPad or iPod touch

To setup iMessage, you’ll need to activate it on your iOS device using your Apple ID.
1. Navigate to Settings > Messages.
2. Toggle iMessage to ‘On’ (Green)
3. Select ‘Use Apple ID for iMessage’
4. Sign-in using your Apple ID credentials
5. The next option will allow you to select which email addresses and/or phone numbers that people can use to contact you through iMessage. For example, if you have a dot Mac email account, you’ll be able to use and as valid email addresses. To remove an email address, tap on the ‘i’, followed by ‘Remove This Email’. You’ll need to select ‘Remove Email Address’ which will pop-up from the bottom of your screen.

Setup iMessage

How to backup or restore iPhone messages

There are two ways to backup iPhone messages. Both are useful when you are considering a move to a new iPhone. With iPhones and other iOS devices, backups are comprehensive. There isn’t a way to just backup Messages. To backup using iCloud, do the following:
1. Navigate to Settings > iCloud.
2. Tap on Backup. If it isn’t enabled, toggle iCloud Backup to ‘On’.
3. Tap on Back Up Now to do just that.

iPhone iCloud backup

If you are using iTunes (and there’s no harm in using both), follow these steps.
1. Connect your iPhone using the supplied USB cable.
2. For Mac users, select File > Devices > Backup. An alternative method or for PC users, you’ll want to select the ‘Summary’ tab. Here you’ll find ‘Backups’. Select Backup Now.

Devices backup

If you have plans to purchase a new iPhone, it’s recommended that you perform a backup prior to visiting the Apple Store. Having the most recent backup insures that all of your data gets properly transferred from your old iPhone to your new iPhone.

Resource: Complete guide on how to backup iPhone on iTunes and iCloud

How to change iPhone message color

Apple doesn’t provide customizing the color of your text messages. However, there are some workarounds. The bright, neon colors introduced with iOS 7 can be difficult for some users to read. Apple is a company that is on the forefront of accessibility. The first workaround requires us to visit the accessibility settings. The ‘Invert Colors’ setting is often not something most users can use full time, unless you absolutely require it. You can setup invert colors, so that can quickly access it when reading your messages.
1. Navigate to Settings > General > Accessibility.
2. Scroll down and select Accessibility Shortcut
3. Select ‘Invert Colors’

Accessibility shortcut

This allows you to quickly switch the invert colors accessibility option on/off by triple-clicking the home button. The result is a dark background. Your messages will be set on a hot pink background, with your incoming messages placing white text on a dark gray background.

There are third party apps like Color Text Messages+ that portend to offer customization of message colors.

How to change iPhone message tone

Apple includes 13 tones that short and are suited for text alerts. You can also add custom tones, which can be creating in iTunes, using a ringtones app or for free using Garageband. To change the text tone for an incoming message:
1. Navigate to Settings > Sounds
2. Select ‘Text Tone’
3. Select any tone from Alert Tones. To make a custom tone, tap on the ‘Store’ link. This will hyperlink to you the Tones section of the iTunes Store. You’ll find latest hits from the likes of Taylor Swift, Ringtone Greatest Hits and more.

Save alert tone

How to check the time that a message was sent or received

To keep the interface clean, Apple will display the day and time specific to groupings of chats within a conversation. To find the exact time of a specific message, swipe your finger from right to left. You’ll see the time appear next to the individual texts. Let go and they go back into hiding.

Show time message received

How to turn off repeating Messages notification tone alerts

By default, iOS enables recurring alert notifications. So for each incoming message, you need to acknowledge and dismiss the alert or your phone will repeat an alert tone at two minute intervals. As someone who likes to glance, but not always dismiss a notification, additional tones can be disruptive. For some folks, these are absolutely vital. Regardless of your preference, you can set preferences to your liking.
1. Navigate to Settings > Notifications > Messages
2. Scroll to the bottom and tap on ‘Repeat Alerts‘.
3. Select ‘Never’ to limit alert tones to one. You can also set your repeat alerts to Once, Twice, 3 Times, 5 Times or 10 Times.

repeating alerts

How you set your alert tones is personal preference and iOS certainly allows from little in the way of distraction to constant nagging. To get a better understanding of notifications, here’s a resource that describes the two types of notifications.

How to change the phone number or email address used when starting new conversations

When you initiate a new iMessage conversation, you can decide which contact email address or phone number you’d like to use as your default contact. Navigate to Settings> Messages > iMessage > Send and Receive. Under the heading ‘Start Conversations From’, tap on any contact address or number. Each new conversation that you start will be sent from that email or phone number.

start conversations

It’s also worth noting that just above is where you can make adjustments to how people can reach you through iMessage. To delete an address, make your way to Settings> Messages > iMessage > Send and Receive. Tap on the ‘i’ next to an address you’d like to remove.  Select ‘Remove This Email’. You’ll see a pop-up appear at the bottom of the display. Select ‘Remove Email Address’ to confirm.

Remove email iMessage

How to retrieve deleted text messages from iPhone

There are a few methods and they are dependent upon your individual situation. Let’s take the first scenario. You’ve recently made a backup to either iCloud or iTunes, but have since deleted important text messages on your iPhone. To recover these messages, you’ll have to restore your iPhone to the last known backup. This means that some data since that backup will be lost. For example, newer text messages. You can perform a backup of photos, apps, which can be saved. You’ll have to decide if the older text messages are worth the trade-off of restoring your entire phone.

1. You’ll need to temporarily disable Find My iPhone. To do say navigate to Settings > iCloud > Find My iPhone. Toggle to ‘Off’. Enter your Apple ID password.
2. Connect your iPhone to your Mac or PC
3. Select the ‘Summary’ option in the left-hand column in iTunes
4. In the ‘Backups’ section, select ‘Restore Backup’. Here you will have an option to select from any of the previous backups from the drop-down menu.

Restore backup

When you make a backup, think of it as a pure copy of how your iPhone existing at that date and time. This process puts you in the role of Marty McFly, iTunes is the Delorean and you’re old text messages will be brought back to the future.

Additional resource: How to backup iPhone to iTunes and iCloud

How to quickly see if a message was sent by SMS or iMessage

Now that you know the differences, you’re probably wanting to know when your messages or those received from friends are SMS or iMessages. Apple uses colors to differentiate the two. Blue backgrounds means it is an iMessage and green means it is a standard SMS text.

This helps you quickly determine incoming messages. Regardless of the type of message, your messages will show up against a gray background. When you type a message, the Send text changes color to either green or blue. That’s how you’ll know the type of message you are sending.

  • Blue: iMessage (Free, uses data only)
  • Green: SMS/MMS (Standard text messaging rates apply)

iMessage vs SMS

How to send a group message

1. To send a group message, tap on the new message icon.
2. Enter a contact phone number or email address (iMessage).
3. Select the ‘+’ to add additional contacts to your message.
4. Type your message and select ‘Send’.

All replies will get sent to everyone in the group. If a person wants out of a group, you can tap on details and swipe the contact who requested to be removed. As someone who despises group messages, this feature is awesome. However, you don’t need to rely on the sender to make that change. You can either leave or mute a conversation. To leave, tap on the ‘Details’ at the top right. You’ll see a list of those taking part in the group text. Scroll down and select the red text titled Leave this conversation.

Leave this conversation

Why does a message show up as not delivered

When you see a red exclamation point, it means that your message failed. It could mean that you sent it via iMessage and the recipient is no longer using that service. It can also mean something as trivial as poor cell service when you sent the text. If a friend or family member has switched to Android, they need to follow steps to disable iMessage. Are you trying to send via iMessage (blue bubbles)? If so, try initiating a new text message using SMS.


How to change amount of time messages are kept

You can set the amount of time for which text messages are saved. If you are concerned about storage space, text messages are not the culprit. These options are more for general housekeeping, provided your messages are not worth keeping. Your iPhone can be setup to automatically delete messages.
1. Navigate to Settings > Messages
2. Under Message History, select Forever, 30 days or 1 year.

Keep messages

How to display character count when typing a message

Text messages are limited to 160 characters. Once you go past that, your message gets split in two. You can easily display character count which will allow you to keep on eye on your limit.

1. Navigate to Settings > Messages
2. Toggle Character Count to ‘On

When you start typing a message, you won’t see anything different. When you reach 32 characters, the character count will appear as you type.

Character count

How to report iMessage spam

If you receive unsolicited spam messages, you can report these to Apple, provided they were sent using iMessage. Take a screenshot of the message (press both the home button and sleep/wake button at the same time). You should hear a camera shutter sound. The screenshot will now appear in your Camera Roll. Send the screenshot along with the email address or phone number associated with the spam. Send this in an email to

How to mute a single conversation in Messages

1. Within the conversation, tap on Details
2. Scroll down and toggle ‘Do Not Disturb’ to ‘On’

Mute conversation

This will prevent any notifications or alerts from this conversation. This is particularly useful if don’t want to be disturbed when a particular sender is sending you a message, but don’t want to make wholesale changes to your notifications.

How to send quick audio messages in iOS 8

1. Open up Messages and either create a new message or tap on an open message thread.
2. At the bottom is the compose message box. If you are using iMessage, you’ll see that reflected in the faint text. You’ll also see a microphone to the right of the box. As noted above, both you and the recipient need to be iMessage users.
3. Tap and hold the microphone. Begin speaking to record your audio message.
4. You have a number of options here. When your recording is complete, if you lift your finger, you’ll have three icons. The ‘x’ option cancels the message. The up arrow sends and the play button allows you to preview. To send or cancel immediately, do not lift your finger. Instead slide it either left to cancel or up to send.

Send quick audio messages iOS 8

How to share or send a map of your location using Messages in iOS 8

First, you’ll need to open up a new or existing message thread with the person you’d like to share your location.
1. Tap on Details at the top right. Messages will attempt to retrieve the location of that contact. If they are sharing their location, you’ll see a map.
2. Under Location, you have two options. Tap on ‘Send My Current Location’. Messages will triangulate your location and immediately send a map to your contact. Send is short-term, great for meeting friends and quickly sending you cooridnates. A more permanent solution is sharing your location. Tap on ‘Share Your Location’ for that option.

Share location Messages iOS 8

For a more in-depth tutorial on this topic: How to share or send a map of your location using Messages in iOS 8

How to Quickly Send Photos or Short Videos Using Messages App on iOS 8

Starting with iOS 8, you can take photos or video and send it all from within the Messages app. That’s right, there’s no need to switch apps. It’s one-stop shopping!

1. Tap and hold the camera icon.
2. A semi-circle will appear on the left and your camera will be active. The camera becomes built-in to the Messages apps.
3. Tap on the camera icon at the top of the semi-circle to snap and send your photo. This is an important distinction between the old method and new method. If you take an accidental selfie, it gets sent, right away. There is no re-take option here. Before tapping on the camera icon, you can tap at the top right to switch from the front-facing camera to the rear-facing camera. If you tap, hold and drag to the camera icon, you can send a photo in one gesture. Tap, hold and swipe up. Boom! Instant selfie send! If you want to take video, just tap on the red record button instead of sliding up. Release and it you’ll see both a play button and arrow. The play option allows you to preview your video before sending. Tap on the up arrow and it gets sent. Before tapping on the camera icon, you can tap at the top right to switch from the front-facing camera to the rear-facing camera.

Messages quick photo send

Tip: These videos are self-destructing. Once you send a video, there is a link within the messages thread to ‘keep’ and it does just that. Otherwise, they will get automatically deleted. I mentioned earlier that text messages won’t have a big impact on your storage space. Video can and will impact your available storage space. I’d still recommend you keep videos, but syncing often with iTunes will allow you to preserve memories, while not having to deal with storage space issues.

How to delete multiple or individual text messages on iOS

Text message exchanges are often referred to as conversations. With iOS, you can delete a single conversation or multiple conversations.

1. From the main screen in Messages, swipe left to reveal a ‘Delete‘ button.
2. Tap on the ‘Delete‘ button

Delete conversation messages iOS 7

To delete multiple conversations:
1. From the main screen in Messages, tap on the blue ‘Edit‘ text.
2. You’ll see a column with red circles with a minus sign
3. Tap on the circles, followed by the delete button
4. Repeat the process as necessary

Remove thread

The other type of message would be a single text message within a conversation. You can delete a text message without deleting an entire conversation.
1. From the main screen in Messages, tap to enter your conversation.
2. Tap and hold the message you’d like deleted.
3. A contextual menu will appear. Tap on ‘More‘.
4. You’ll see a blue box with a checkmark next to your message.
5. Tap on the trash can icon at the bottom left of your screen.

Delete individual message iOS

How to disable iMessage when switching to Android

Switching to Android? If so, you’ll want to take the proper steps to disable iMessage before you trade-in or sell your iPhone. Ideally, you’ll want to wean yourself off iMessage a few weeks before the transition. First things first, disable iMessage.

1. Go to Settings > Messages > Toggle iMessage ‘Off’

In theory, it should be that easy, but there have been numerous complaints and even a class action lawsuit over this issue. Apple has publicly stated their intent to fix things. If you are having trouble, I’d highly recommend you visit our extensive guide on how to disable iMessage.

How to block text messages in iOS

Starting with iOS 7, you can block text messages from any of your contacts. Follow these steps:

  • Navigate to Settings > Messages
  • Scroll down and tap on ‘Blocked
  • Tap on ‘Add New…
  • iOS 7 will bring up your contacts. Scroll and tap on a contact to block messages.

Block texts iOS 7

What if this is a message from someone you don’t know? This resource provides details on how to block spam texts. As outlined above, if they are coming from iMessage, you should also submit a complaint to Apple.

How to get read receipts in iMessage

1. Navigate to Settings > Messages
2. Toggle ‘Send Read Receipts’ to On/Off

If you’d like to know when your friends or family have read your messages, you’ll need them to change the settings on their end to ‘On’. A message will show as delivered but will show message read when opened. You’ll also see at what time it was read.

How to turn off SMS preview on iPhone

  • Navigate to Settings > Notifications
  • Select Messages
  • Toggle ‘Show Preview’ to OFF

As a result, you’ll still get a notification when you receive an incoming SMS or iMessage. However, it won’t contain a preview of the message. It will simply show you the sender of the message.

If you want to more privacy when text messaging, you can turn off turn off lock screen notifications for messages.


The Messages app is not only a capable SMS/MMS app, but offers advanced features thanks to Apple’s iMessage service. It’s missing a manual that helps you do so much more than the basics, but hopefully we’ve got every topic covered. Have a question that’s not covered in our ultimate guide? Please leave a comment and we’ll add to this resource as necessary. As always, our forums are a great way to get expert advice from our friendly, knowledgable community.

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