A massive guide to Apple’s Messages App Store
Stickers and message extensions have been around for a few years now, and early adopters like Facebook have implemented a variety of fun icons and images. However, with the release of iOS 10 in 2016, Apple brought a much broader and better experience to their own Messages app, and even managed to monetize with their familiar App Store model. Of course, there are plenty of free apps too.
To use this platform, simply open Messages, start a new message, and tap the App Store icon. Here, you can add extensions that the apps you already have installed to this ‘App Drawer,’ or you can search for new iMessage apps in a new store purpose-built into the Messages app.
Before we start, be aware that there are two types of iMessage Apps available depending on whether they’re a standalone extension, or tied to an existing app:
Standalone extension: This exists only as an iMessage extension and can only be activated, deactivated or deleted via the iMessage App Store. Any settings or activity takes place with Messages.
Bundled extension: This is part of an already existing iOS app. If you have the parent app installed on your Home screen, you’ll be able to access its corresponding extension within Messages.
The new Messages App Store is about far more than Super Mario and Angry Birds stickers. To get you started amongst a host of unfamiliar options, here’s our iMessage toolkit to get you started.
In terms of messaging and email, there are a couple of great apps that have added iMessage extensions.
First, we’ve got Airmail. The popular email program is a well-designed, cross-platform app, meaning it has rock-solid Mac OS and iPad apps. Its addition of an iMessage extension is not surprising considering its historical desire to be available across all platforms. So, what use does an email extension have? Well, the Airmail extension, which is part of the Airmail app ($5/£5) automatically plugs into recent email attachments. People use text messages and emails differently, and if you want someone to see an attachment early, it might make more sense to text it to them rather than forward them an email they may take longer to read.
Alto (Free) is a more recent addition to the email space, arriving in February 2016, but it’s been well-received thanks to its organizational approach. Emails are organized by importance and timeliness, while cards pull out information based on type – for example, the app will automatically pull out flight schedules and photo attachments from your email inbox, which is all collated on a central dashboard. As for its iMessage extension, it’s similar to Airmail’s, but it’s a much more personal email user-centric approach. Airmail’s all-in collation of attachments will be good for business users, but for everyday users that just want to share a few family snaps, Alto will be that little bit more useful.
For those that don’t fancy downloading or playing a whole game on their device, or simply want a better option for playing games with people they actually know, many new iMessage games provide exactly what users are looking for. Some of the familiar names are Words with Friends (Free), the popular Scrabble-style title which can now be played via the Messages app, and Wordie (Free) a trivia game where you have to guess the word for things. Both these are reliable titles that make the jump well.
Elsewhere, newer developers are getting in on the game, so to speak. One title that launched almost immediately after iOS 10 are GamePigeon (Free) – a kind of megapack of simple games like 8-ball, Poker and 20 questions. It’s interesting to see the mechanics of iMessage at work here. For example, if you play the pool-style game, it opens up into full screen, but once you take a shot, it reduces down into an iMessage which you then have to send. You also won’t miss anything as when you receive another shot back in the form of a message, when you open it up the player’s shot plays.
And for some truly classic, analog-gone-digital gameplay, check out Rock-Paper-Scissors ($1/£1) which brings the popular hand-based game to Messages. Of course, with these games, both players have to have the app installed, but if they don’t you can still start games and they’ll receive a link to install the extension or app.
Finance & Money
Sending money via your device is becoming a more frequent thing as both devices and banks work to improve security. It’s now easy to use both Apple Pay, but also new apps specifically designed for sending money. Even better, with these new extensions, the other person doesn’t necessarily need to have the app installed.
Circle Pay (Free) is probably the best app at doing this right now – especially as it works internationally, not just domestically like SquareCash does. Even better, it now lets you do it right from the Messages app for free. Users just need to sign up and can then send US dollars, Euros, Pounds (and even Bitcoin) to anyone.
This is how it works: sign up via your phone or email by opening up the app, taking a photo of your card, and then confirm. Now you can easily select an amount you want to pay someone within iMessage and they’ll be sent a message that they can tap on to receive the funds. Works great for splitting a cab, paying for pizza, or tech-savvy kids could even receive an allowance via Circle Pay. The possibilities are pretty vast. but in a nutshell: get paid or pay others via text? That’s the kind of simplicity we like. For more on Circle’s background, its security and how it’s able to provide a free service, visit the Circle Pay website.
But that’s not the extent of finance apps on iMessage, a great little budgeting tool called Pennies mini ($1/£1) allows you to create and share budgets from within iMessage. This is an interesting one because it’s not part of the main Pennies app ($4/£4) but rather a standalone extension that focuses more on quick budgets. It’s great for something like a quick weekend with a significant other in which you both have access to and can update the budget via the Messages app.
Messaging is inherently a social act, so it’s no surprise that some of the most useful and well-designed iMessage extensions involve communicating with friends and family. And we’re not talking social networks here. They’re generally not active in the iMessages App Store, in part, because their tools – like Facebook Messenger – are essentially competing in the same space.
However, if you want to take a quick straw poll on where to meet for dinner, or share details of a location with a friend or in a group message, here are a bunch of useful extensions for organizing stuff.
First, we’ve got Do with Me (Free), which is an iMessage-only extension which lets you share to-do lists with others. It’s a great collaborative tool because both people can check items off, from shopping lists to a holiday checklist to a set of chores. How about organizing a restaurant to meet? For that you’ve got a couple of great options – firstly, OpenTable (Free), which is a standalone app for booking tables that now has an iMessage extension. It lets you quickly share eating options with others via Messages, giving them the option to ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down,’ if you hit on a mutually approved option, you can tap a reservation there and then. Secondly, there’s Yelp (Free) which is another app that’s extended its functionality to iMessage. Yelp is all about community-driven restaurant reviews, and now you can share options via iMessage. It’s similar to OpenTable but is more about ratings.
Have you ever found it hard getting everyone to agree on a time to meet? Well, there’s a whole bunch of polling app extension now, but we’d say the best is Doodle (Free), a well-known and respected website and iOS app that allows you to select a window of availability and have everyone note on what time and day suits them best. It’s then wonderfully easy to see the best time for organizing a meetup. No more “I can’t do Friday but I can do Tuesday” back and forths – Doodle lets you get things sorted quickly, and it’s now even faster in iMessage.
Note-taking and recording
One of the best note-taking apps on the App Store is Evernote (Free) and it now has an iMessage extension which shows you a scrolling list of your most recent notes, which can be shared quickly and directly to individuals. But it’s not the only note-taking app that features, most of the major players have also got on-board, including Drafts [$5/£5] which lets you insert text snippets from your notes, and Whink [$5/£5] which takes a more playful approach and lets users create hand-written messages to send to others. Give them a shot if you’ve never fancied using Evernote.
Along the same vein we have Streaks [$5/£5], a habit-tracking app. One of Apple’s Best of 2015 apps, the app lets you track positive habits. Trying to cut down on coffee? Stop smoking? View and monitor how long you can go for with a new habit. In its new iMessage extension, you can quickly share streaks to get some positive vibes and encouragement from others.
This is where one of Apple’s own apps gets the iMessage treatment. If you toggle the Apple Music extension on you can share most recent music you’ve listened to with others. However, this will only work if you’re subscribed to Apple Music.
Elsewhere, there are extensions for podcasts too. Our favorite is Castro ($5/£5), a neat little player that takes an email style inbox-approach allowing you to quickly select which podcasts episodes to download as they’re added rather than automatically downloading, does have an extension. It allows you to quickly share podcast episodes you’ve enjoyed to others, providing a neat little way to make recommendations. While Castro isn’t the first choice for most, it’s an intuitive app that’s just got that little bit better.
Elsewhere, there are some really interesting apps doing some innovative things. One of the most interesting is Tinder (Free). While the majority of people recognize Tinder as that swipe-focused dating app, it’s actually been making in-roads into other forms of socializing, including helping others make friends, not just partners. However, its iMessage app extension is another kettle of cod altogether. The extension allows you to create image ‘stacks’ which you can then share with a friend who will then use the familiar swipe right for yes, swipe right for no method. A decent example here would be trying to choose what outfit to wear. You could try on a number of options, then pass them on to a friend to decide which ones work.
Of course, as it’s an extension of the main app, if you want to use it and have a partner you might have to explain why you have the dating app on your device!
The Internet Movie Database, otherwise known as IMDB (Free) is the ultimate movie resource. For those that just know that actor was in that other thing but can’t remember what it was, or for those that simply want to watch the latest trailer, the app is great. However, the iMessage extension allows you to do some really useful things. When you first open the extension, it shows you the local showtimes in your area, which you can quickly share. You can also search actors, TV shows, films, and share a link directly as well.
And finally… alright, we couldn’t resist talking about stickers.
But we’re not going to be talking about the ones that simply provide icons of recognized characters such as Angry Birds or Super Mario Run, but the ones that enhance an existing image, or provide some kind of useful purpose. A few of our favorites include Aardman Face Bomb (Free), which lets you apply plasticine-styled eyes and mouths onto things, Stickimal ($1/£1), which takes a similar approach, but has a different design and is great for cartooning inanimate objects.
Finally, in writing this article we also couldn’t resist making our own Stickers for fun. We’ve got a couple on the App Store already. First is Annotate for iMessage [Free], which allows you to highlight areas of interest in a photo or message, or scrub something out.
We’ve also created Meme Me Up [Free], which is a little sillier and allows you to add meme-worthy text to your photos in iMessage. Great fun.
And that’s it! A whole plethora of iMessage app extensions to get you started. Happy messaging.