As part of its major iOS 10 update, Apple launched a brand new Messages app. While previous years have seen the app slowly evolving to be more capable, this year’s revolution brings with it a huge change in focus. Instead of an ageing - but necessary - communication tool, Messages now wants to be a cool, interactive and fun application.

Although they didn’t say so during the announcement, it seems very much like Messages is trying to compete head on with the likes of Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. But that doesn’t mean it’s going all form and no function.

This is probably the biggest update we’ve seen on a default text messaging app on any platform in a very long time, and probably since BBM ruled the roost on Blackberry. And it’s not just more colourful and interactive, it’s more personal too.

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While iOS 10 brings multiple new methods of inputting your message, the Messages update also lets you customise how the receiver will see them on screen.

As an example, you can change how the bubble containing your message animates. Whether you want to appear more excited, or a little quieter, you are able to choose from a number of preset animations to get your feelings across.

To use it, type your message as normal, then force press (if you have a 3D touch screen) or long press (for older devices), on the little blue arrow that appears in the text input field.

While most of these effects change the way the bubble animates on the screen, the invisible ink effect is a little different. Sending a message or picture with the invisible ink effect leaves it hidden behind a layer of shimmering shimmery-ness.

When your friend, family member or contact receives the message, they can wipe away the concealing layer to reveal the message underneath. It stays that way for a few seconds, before hiding itself again.

As well as animating the speech bubble you can send full screen effects.

On the effects screen, swipe from right to left to reveal the choice of full screen options which include things like a laser show, confetti, balloons and a few others.

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In group iMessages, or regular one-on-one iMessages you can now react to individual messages. All you have to do is long press or force press any individual iMessage bubble, and a pop-up bubble appears with six different reactions.

These reactions include a heart, thumbs up, thumbs down, “ha ha”, exclamation points and a question mark. Choose which ever one sums up your emotional response to that message, and it’ll be permanently tagged to the speech bubble. If multiple people react to the same message, all the reactions will show. 

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In iOS 10, you can reply quickly to messages without leaving the app you’re in, and without having to go to the main messages app.

When you receive an SMS or iMessage, simply drag down on the notification that pops up at the top of the screen. Or, if your phone is locked, you can long press the notification on the lock screen and you’ll get to the new quick reply layer.

It’s essentially a small, square message window that appears along with the keyboard on top of whatever else happens to be on the screen at the time. Type in your reply as normal, hit send, and go back to what you were doing. It certainly makes replying to messages much quicker.

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Digital Touch is a feature brought across to the iPhone from Apple Watch. You can access it in Messages by tapping the icon to the left of the input field that looks like two fingers resting on a heart.

Then, your keyboard is replaced by a black square and some colourful icons. The black square is basically your miniature drawing pad. Here, you can just doodle something quickly and choose from a few different colours.

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Once your doodle is drawn, you can send it and whoever you send the message to will see it animate on screen in the exact way you drew it.

There’s also a record icon, and if you press this you can shoot a short video or take a picture, then draw on top of it and send it.

Lastly, you have other gestures. Holding two fingers on the screen will send a heartbeat animation effect, holding one finger on the screen sends a “Fireball”, tapping on the screen sends a circle tap effect.

If the default black square drawing pad is too small and fiddly, you can expand it to full screen by tapping the small arrow next to it. Then your entire display becomes the input.

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While Digital Touch lets you capture photos and videos and send them with a real-time animation drawn on top, Messages also has a markup feature for images stored in your library.

Simply tap the camera icon to the left of the message input field, then choose a picture from your photo library. The photo will then appear in your message input field, you need to tap on it and choose “markup” in the bottom left corner.

With markup you have three tools: drawing, writing text or magnifying. You also get a choice of eight colours and you can change the thickness of a brush stroke when you’re drawing by tapping the three-line icon on the right of the colour palette bar.

The magnifying glass, or loupe, has two adjustment controls: Green for zooming in, and blue for increasing or decreasing the size of the loupe.

Once you’ve added all the edits you want to your picture, tap “Done” and you can send it with a message as normal.

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If you turn your screen sideways in to landscape mode while you’re replying to a message, you’ll get the new handwriting screen. If you get the full landscape keyboard instead, tap the key on the bottom right of the keyboard that looks like a squiggle.

Here, you can draw a picture or write a quick note in your own handwriting with your finger. There’s a collection of preset templates already at the bottom of the screen that you can choose from too, if you’d rather.

Once you’re finished and you hit “Done”, your drawn message is saved alongside all the other templates.

If you’d like to access the saved handwritten notes when you’re typing in portrait, just tap the icon to the left of the input field that looks like the App Store logo and swipe to the recents screen.

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If you love chatting with emoji instead of real words, the latest version of Messages is a dream come true. Not only do emoji show up three times larger than they did before, but also show up in the predicted words bar at the top of the keyboard.

As well as predictive emoji, you can also select individual words in a created message to swap them out for emoji.

Bring up the emoji keyboard by tapping the little smiley-face icon on the bottom row of keys, and it turns applicable words orange to denote which ones can be used.

Tap the one(s) you’d like to change and it instantly changes to an emoji, just like magic.

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One of the biggest new features in Messages is the new App Store built specifically to add useful features and stickers to your messages.

By tapping the App Store icon next to the input field you can see your installed apps and stickers where your keyboard would normally be.

To install and manage apps, tap the four dots in the bottom left corner of the screen and you’ll be whisked away to the app store designed specifically for Messages. You can install, update and manage any installed apps from here.

Any apps already installed on your phone with Message functionality can appear here to, so you can send your train times via the Trainline app, send movie showing times via IMDB and much more, all without ever leaving messages.