Starting a new conversation is easy in Apple’s Messages app. Click or tap the pencil button, enter someone’s phone number or email address so their name appears on the To line, and type your message. And if you want to talk with several people at once, enter them all on the To line before you begin typing your message.
What many people don’t realize is that if everyone in a group chat is using an Apple device and iMessage—this is the case if your messages to them appear in blue bubbles—special features are available. To access them, use the button in the upper-right corner of the main screen for the chat. It’s called Details on the Mac, and it’s an i in iOS.
Here’s what you can do from the Details view:
- By default, a conversation is named with its participants’ names—though you may see only truncated names. You can improve on that by editing the name, as we did for the screenshots above, where our group is called Weekend Fun. Type in the Name field (Mac) or tap Enter a Group Name, type the name, and tap Done (iOS)
- At any time, you can add more people to the conversation: click Add Member (Mac) or tap Add Contact (iOS), and type the desired phone number or email address.
- To remove a person from the conversation, click the person’s name to select it and press Delete (Mac) or swipe left on a name and tap Remove (iOS, shown below). Be careful since there’s no opportunity to confirm the deletion, so you’d have to add a mistakenly deleted person back manually. (In iOS, Messages doesn’t always let you remove people.)
- You can even “delete” yourself by clicking or tapping Leave this Conversation. Once you’ve left, you can’t get back without someone else adding you.
- Is leaving a little drastic? Perhaps the conversation is being too chatty while you need to get work done. To mute notifications from the conversation, select the Do Not Disturb checkbox (Mac) or enable the Hide Alerts switch (iOS); when you’re ready to be alerted to new messages again, deselect the checkbox or disable the switch.
- Everyone in the conversation can send or share their location from an iPhone or iPad. Sending a location is like posting a message saying “I’m at the library now” along with a map to where you are. Sharing your location allows the others to see where you are for one hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely. Of course, if you opt to share indefinitely, you can revoke that sharing later.
- When anyone in the conversation is sharing their location, a map appears at the top, showing the locations of those who have shared. This is fabulous for keeping track of relatives during family visits where different groups head out on separate outings.
- Finally, the bottom of the Details screen displays any pictures or files that have been shared within the conversation. Messages gives you control over how these items are stored in your copy of Messages, letting you copy, save, open, and delete them. It’s all easy; for example, on the Mac, select a photo and Control-click to see a contextual menu that includes an Add to Photos Library command or press the Space bar to invoke Quick Look for a bigger view and a Share option. In iOS, tap the photo to see the Share icon or touch and hold on a photo to access additional options—tap More and then tap Save to copy the image to the Photos app.
Alas, if you include even one green-bubble friend who doesn’t have an Apple device with an iMessage account set up and instead relies on plain-old SMS text messaging, these features disappear. It’s just another way Apple encourages your friends and relatives to use iPhones.