What’s the difference between iMessages and Text Messages?

If you have a Microsoft or Android mobile phone then this doesn’t apply. iMessages are only available on an iPhone.

SMS Logo

SMS = Short Message Service = text message

Whatever your phone type and operating system, sending a text message is normally handled by your mobile connection provider (Vodaphone, EE, O2 etc). They route the message through to the recipient using their own servers. Depending upon your data plan (service agreement) with your provider, you may pay individually for all text messages sent from your phone, you may pay for any text messages over a certain “free allowance” per month, or all of your text messaging may be included in your plan.

Things change slightly if you have an iPhone (irrespective of your mobile provider), but only for the text messages that you send to someone else who also has an iPhone (and irrespective of their mobile phone provider). In this case, the message doesn’t get as far as being transferred to your mobile provider for onward transmission to the recipient. Instead, Apple intercepts the message and sends it via its own servers to the recipient (with whom Apple is in communication, of course, as that recipient also has an iPhone). In this case, Apple has intercepted your message and sent it as an iMessage (as opposed to a text message).

iPhone iMessageApple chooses to provide this service free of charge. If you don’t do an enormous amount of texting and/or your texting requirements are covered by your data plan, and/or you’ve got loadsa money, then it won’t matter very much whether your message is sent for free as an iMessage or charged as a text message handled by your provider.

I dare say, though, that it does make a difference to a young teenager responsible for funding their own mobile phone usage. In which case, Apple is probably being very canny in offering youngsters something that they will value as it will undoubtedly help in building brand loyalty. Part of the reason that Blackberry mobile phones were so popular at one stage was that they had their own private messaging service (BBM – Blackberry Messenger) that allowed Blackberry users to communicate freely and privately with each other.

On that subject,four years ago when we had the summer riots in London (yes, it really was that long ago – August 2011), I suddenly noticed a large increase in visitors to my website who seemed to have clicked on my Google Ad after they had searched for the term “PC World”. At that time, I thought that it was quite clever of me to use “PC World” as a keyword (a trigger) for Google to show my ads as I thought that anyone looking for PC World might well be looking for the kind of computer support service I provide. In the end I stopped using that keyword because it became apparent from the enquiries I was getting that people searching for “PC World” thought my ad appearing must mean that I am actually PC World!

iPhone Text MessageYou’d be very surprised just how often that happened. A lot of people seem to thing of Google Search as being a telephone directory rather than a search engine. Anyway, I concluded that for that brief, tense, strange time, lots of youngsters who didn’t have Blackberrys (Blackberries?) started enquiring about getting one as they were missing out on all the news and info because they didn’t have Blackberry Messenger. So, I ended up paying Mr Google lots of money for displaying my ads to irrelevant people. My fault – not Google’s. Since that time, Blackberry Messenger has been extended so that it is now available on iPhone and Android phones as well as Blackberry.

Back to the point, you can tell whether your text message is being delivered by iMessage or text message. When you are about to compose your message (after you’ve defined the recipient), the message area rectangle will include the grey word “Message” if your message will be delivered by text message, and “iMessage” if it will be delivered by Apple to an iPhone. When your delivered message is then displayed in a speech bubble above the message area rectangle, text messages have a green background and IMessages have a blue background.

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the iPhone keyboard

…and I know from discussing this with friends and computer clients that there are plenty of other people who share this slight frustration. If it’s only a case of prodding a few characters then that’s OK. Just take it slowly and pay attention. Better still, use a stylus.

If it’s a long and complicated email that needs to be sent from the iPhone then I’ve concluded that the best way to do this is – don’t. If I haven’t got access to a keyboard better than the iPhone’s then the email can just wait. If it’s that urgent then a phone call is probably the best option.

Steve Jobs with iPhone

I wonder how Steve Jobs got on with typing on the iPhone

But what if it’s a text message that is needed? An iPad’s no obvious benefit as there’s no texting available and neither, in the ordinary course of things, is a proper computer any use, either. I have several times investigated the possibility of texting from a proper computer but have never found a straightforward solution that is worth the effort (or the cost). A while ago I blogged about a piece of software for preparing a text message on a computer and then sending it to an iPhone for onward transmission as a text message. I did use this for a while, but it proved flakey and I gave it up.

That was when I decided it was time to get to grips with an aspect of the iPhone that I had always found too tricky and tedious to bother mastering – “copy and paste”. After a bit of practice, I now routinely use this method to send long text messages. It involves sending an email first from something with a better keyboard than the iPhone (ie a computer or a tablet).

So, here are step by step instructions. You may find, like me, that this makes sending long text messages quicker and more accurate than using your iPhone’s keyboard.

  1. Prepare the message as an email and send it to yourself. I include in the body of the email exactly what is going into the text message. No more and no less. It doesn’t really matter if the email program is set up to add a signature to each message as it’s easy enough to delete this from the final text message just before sending it. The only important – if blindingly obvious – point is that the iPhone must be set up to receive the email that you are going to send to yourself.
  2. Open the email message on your iPhone.
  3. Do a “long press” anywhere in the body of the email message. When the magnifying glass pops up then let go of the long press.
  4. It doesn’t matter what part of the message has been initially “selected” by the long press as a short menu now pops up that includes the option to “select all”. Tap on this option.
  5. All of the text will now be selected and a menu pops up with the single option to “Copy”. Tap on this option.
  6. Press the Home button and open your text messaging program. If the text message that you have just prepared is a reply to an incoming message then open that message. Otherwise, press the option to start a new message and fill in the recipient’s name or mobile number in the usual way.
  7. Tap on the message area.
  8. Do a “long press” on the message area until a menu pops up with the single option to “Paste”.
  9. Tap on the “Paste” option.
  10. Tap “Send” in the usual way.

iPhone in landscape mode

Of course, it’s always easier typing on a smartphone with it held in landscape mode

Et voila… your long, complicated, and accurate text message is on its way without any typing tantrums (or is it just me that has those?).

This method is much, much easier to carry out than it is to explain – especially after a bit of practice. It also means I can go back to being as pedantic as I like in my use of English and my refusal to succumb to using “textspeak” just because it’s easier to type.

© 2011-2018 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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