Tricking out your iOS group texts is worth the tiny bit of effort
Essentials Week spotlights unexpected items that make our daily lives just a little bit better.
Between the election, the holidays, and the need to stay virtually connected to friends and family amid the pandemic, my group texts have been, shall we say, popping off.
While this is usually a joy, group texts on iMessage can sometimes get a bad rap for their free-wheeling chaos and non-stop notifications. Luckily, Apple’s updates to group texting over the years — and especially recent changes in the September release of iOS 14 — have made this sometimes irksome but nonetheless essential form of communication better in some unexpected ways.
It’s worth it to take a second, figure out how these new (and some old, but underused) options work, and start implementing them in your own group text life. The messaging features can just straight up make your group chats less annoying. The design changes and personalization options can make the whole experience a little more fun, and even promote the feeling that you’re not so far away from your friends, after all.
What’s a thread?
First up: threading and tagging. Use them, know them.
Say you’re in a group text, and someone throws out a question you want to respond to, but other members of the chat have moved on to a new topic already. If you press and hold on the message, there’s the option to “reply.” Press it, compose your message, and your text will show up as a threaded response both underneath the original message, and as the most recent message in the chat along with a small grayed out version of the original message. Others can respond in kind and, voila, you have a thread!
Tagging is for people who are annoyed by notifications, but don’t want to miss something important.
Tagging is for people who are annoyed by notifications, but don’t want to miss something important. If you go into a group’s “info,” you have the option to “hide notifications.” However, if someone writes your name in a group chat, the name will turn blue; clicking it gives the option to tag that person. Then, the person in question will get a notification that they’ve been mentioned, even if they have their alerts hidden. For those who use Slack, tagging and threading will feel familiar.
When Apple first announced these features in June, I celebrated them as a way to make group chats less chaotic. In practice, my friends and I don’t use them as much as we could. The threading has come in handy, but it’s still more of a novelty. I haven’t used tagging yet, but I’m glad I know it’s an option.
Personalize your chats
These messaging updates are far from my favorite. Apple has introduced more ways to personalize the way your messages look. It’s not as crazy as the backgrounds and other options services like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp offer. But the changes are meaningful.
I only just started using an older option in messaging, but it’s made a difference. Did you know you can name your group texts? While you could name your group text with your best friends just “BFFs,” there is no rule that the name needs to be permanent or informative — use it however you want. For example, during the election, a sub-group of some of my friends created a chat group for sharing links from our adventures in Doom Scrolling. I named the thread “Doom Scrollerz R Us.” As the election results progressed, various members of the group kept re-naming it: We were “Happy Scrollers,” “Anxious Scrollers,” and beyond. It’s a simple way to keep organized but another way to get on the same page, with some laughs.
The display of group chats — both when you open Messages and see a vertical list of all of your conversations, and at the very top of a particular conversation — is another opportunity to inject some joy and personality. Chats are represented with groupings of circles, each circle standing for one participant. By default, these circles are gray and contain the initials of the person it represents. But if you assign a contact a photo, their circle in all of the chats will change from blah initials to the photo you’ve personally chosen for them. The size of the circles change from time to time, based on the most and least active participants.
Doing so presents a collection of all the photos — people laughing or mugging or doing whatever it is in the photo you’ve chosen to represent them — at the top of your group chats. While this is a simple design change, just that visual representation at the top of my chats of all of us, together, makes me feel even more like our texting is about spending time with each other.
Then again, there’s the option to assign a photo or even an emoji to be the group chat image. The participant photo bubbles will still appear around the chosen group image, but there will be one central photo or icon that appears in your messages list rather than the collection of smaller circles. This feature is similar to group names: It can be helpful and descriptive, or funny, or always changing. In my group chat of friends with whom I’ve been watching old seasons of Survivor during quarantine, our group chat photo is Survivor host Jeff Probst looking skeptical. We aren’t contestants on his show or anything, but in the group chat, we’re all part of the same tribe. We’re scattered across the country but close together — at least in our phones.
Here are the steps you need to take to trick out your group iPhone chats.
Open your photos, and choose a photo of one of your friends or family members that makes you happy.
Click the share/export button in the lower left corner. Scroll down the menu, and choose “Assign to Contact.” Choose the contact you want, size and center the person’s face inside the circle, and select “Choose” in the lower right hand corner. Press “Update” once the person’s contact page comes up.
Repeat this for contacts that you frequently talk to in group chats.
Open messages, select a group chat, and click on the heading under the photos (should read “3 people,” or however many people are in the chat) so that the “info” button appears. Click on info.
At the top of the info screen under the names of the participants, click on the blue link that reads “Change Name and Photo.”
Write in your name of choice where it reads “Enter a Group Name.”
Choose the camera icon to take a picture, the photos icon to select a photo from your camera roll, the emoji button to pick an emoji, the pen button to write custom group photo text, or scroll to select pre-surfaced emoji with nice backgrounds.
Press done. Congrats, you’ve tricked out your group chats!
Published at Sun, 06 Dec 2020 13:00:00 +0000