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How to use iMessage's new features, effects, and stickers

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Apple’s new iOS 10 update adds a bunch of fun new features to iMessage, including effects, apps, and stickers that you can send to your friends. Unfortunately, it's not immediately obvious how any of this actually works. Confused how to add stickers? Want to send messages with confetti? Read on!

iMessage Apps

The biggest change in iMessage is the addition of apps, which fall into roughly two buckets. There are more traditional app integrations, like Fandango or Venmo. These allow access to app features within Messages, saving you from switching from Messages to another app. Second, there is the fun stuff, like the sticker apps.

[Important note: Messages is the name of the application on Mac and iOS. iMessage is Apple's messaging service, accessed through the Messages app. Yes, the names are a bit confusing.]

Both types of apps live in the same part of the Messages app, which can be accessed by opening Messages and tapping the App Store icon to the left of the lower text box. This will display a series of scrolling panes, each containing the different apps you have installed. But what if you haven't installed any iMessage apps?

How to install iMessage apps

The iMessage App Store is tucked away in the Messages app, but you can find it here.

  1. Hit the App Store icon next to the text box in Messages
  2. Tap the four-dot icon in the bottom left corner
  3. Hit the "+ Store" icon

Once you’ve reached the iMessage App store, you can buy and download new standalone iMessage apps and stickers, as well as manage any installed full iPhone apps that offer iMessage apps support. For example, Alto’s Adventure (the game) has a sticker pack app that can be added in this Manage tab. Since I already had Alto’s Adventure installed, the sticker pack was waiting for me when I installed iOS 10. Alternatively, both iMessage-only as well as full apps with iMessage support can be found in the regular iOS App Store, where iMessage support is specifically marked.

A lot iMessage apps are standalone and only exist in iMessage. So don't assume everything is ready to go. You'll want to take some time do discover what's available in this special store. As a helpful tip, scrolling down in the iMessage app store will take you to the top free and paid apps, which is a good place to get started.

Stickers

Alright, you’ve splurged and bought some stickers (or just downloaded a few free ones) and now you want to use them. First, go back to the app selection page and swipe over to your chosen sticker app. Then you've got two choices. One is to simply tap the sticker, which will place it in the text composing box and allow you to send it like a picture. But the real fun happens when you use the second option: press your finger on a sticker, drag it out of the box, and place it on an earlier entry in your message history. This options allows you to annotate text, photos, or other stickers that have been sent in the past with your sticker of choice.

While each individual type of sticker lives in it's own app — which can be irritating — Apple collects your most recent stickers, across all sticker apps, in its own Recent section of your iMessage app selection window.

Everything Else

iMessage Effects

Another new feature is the option to send messages with effects, like having the message inflate, appear in a shower of balloons, or be hidden by invisible ink. To access effects, type your message or insert a picture in the text box, then 3D Touch (or tap and hold on older models) the send button instead of just tapping it as usual. This will open the library of various effects. As a heads up to my friends and family, expect a whole lot of lasers in your texts.

imessage balloons Apple

Handwriting

iOS 10 also lets you send "handwritten" messages that you can draw with a finger onto your touchscreen. It’s one of the more hidden features, requiring you to turn your phone horizontal (with rotation lock off) in the iMessage app, at which point the handwriting interface will appear. For those with bad handwriting, Apple has included some premade messages for you to send.

Digital Touch

In what should be a familiar looking interface for Apple Watch users, Apple also brought it’s Digital Touch messages over to iMessage, where you can send taps, quick squiggly drawings, and hearts by tapping the heart icon next to the text box in the Messages app. The iMessage iteration takes it a step further, allowing you to import a photo to draw on in a very Snapchat-esque fashion (especially given that Digital Touch messages auto delete unless specifically kept).

Emoji

Hitting the emoji button on your keyboard once you've typed in a bunch of text now highlights words in your message with emoji equivalents, allowing you to easily replace the words with emoji by simply tapping on them. This will save you from surfing through the emoji catalog.

Apple

Tapback

Lastly, Messages now has quick responses a la Facebook, where double tapping on a message allows you to quickly mark it with one of six icons, allowing to you heart, thumbs up, or thumbs down a message quickly.

Correction: This article originally stated that iMessage apps could only be found through the App store in the Messages app. They can also be found in the regular iOS App Store application.