Apple’s new iOS 17 Messages features help it “catch up” chat apps

iOS 17 from AppleNow available in a public betaplans to overhaul the Messages app adding to iMessage some of the best features we’ve already seen on WhatsApp, Signal, Google Messages and other rivals. And in a move that carries over from the Messages app, Apple is also introducing a new Check In feature — to help notify friends or family when you get home — which could very well be the next feature we see copied by other messaging apps.

While some of these new Messages features are already familiar to those juggling multiple messaging and group chat apps, wider adoption will only improve communication on phones, no matter which chat app you prefer. Additionally, some of the new features in iOS 17 will help you indirectly when texting in a non-Apple chat app, such as updates to auto-correct keyboards that will contextually recognize if swearing is a normal part of how you speak.

It’s worth noting that while these iOS 17 improvements are certainly welcome, there are definitely some areas that Apple could still improve for a better universal chat experience. Chief among these are the notorious green-bubble blue-bubble conflicts. Apple hasn’t announced any improvements to SMS conversations so far, but there are features found on other messaging services and apps as well that are worth a closer look.

A check-in message in a chat

iOS 17 comes with a new location sharing tool called Check In.


Check In is the new Messages feature that should be copied

Apple’s upcoming Check In feature takes a very common request and makes it easier to honor it. There have been many times after meeting friends or family where we’ve been asked to text each other after we get home. It’s so common in my life that it’s practically part of the farewell ritual, just to make sure that everyone has arrived safely by subway or car. Despite this, it is also very common to forget to send that message.

Apple check-in may fix the problem. While CNET has yet to test the feature, it could in theory be triggered just when friends or family members ask for that “come home” message. Then it could automatically ping when I went through my port. That way, if the time is running late or I’m just too tired from traveling, the status update still gets turned off.

Check In builds on a location-sharing tool for friends and family that Apple has had in Messages for years, and the new feature makes that tool much more automated. Check-in takes it a step further by allowing you to get notifications when a delay might be getting in the way of someone. For friends and family who want that kind of safety check, it could be an additional tool that helps loved ones look after each other.

There are currently other ways to set up a similar ping, using navigation apps like Google Maps, but the version Apple previewed at this year’s WWDC shows an easy way to get these notifications right in the Messages app. Hopefully, other chat apps will find their own ways to mimic this idea, either through integration with a map service or through improvements to an already existing location sharing feature.

A text message screen with the Recover arrow highlighted.

The Catch Up arrow in iOS 17 shows where you left off in a group chat.


Catch Up will make group chats much easier to follow

Apple’s Catch Up feature for group chats caught my eye when it was revealed. An arrow indicates where you left off in an intense group chat that continued while you were away from your phone.

This is a fairly common feature in other chat apps, and I didn’t realize Apple was missing it until the company pointed it out. The unread etiquette in WhatsApp, for example, helps me when I check in with a neighbors group chat I have for my apartment building within that app. This is a group chat that I don’t actively participate in — and often silence it — but on days I want to check it, an unread message label helps me find the last part of the conversation I looked at.

There’s currently an unread filter in the iPhone’s Messages app, but the Catch Up arrow should make it clear which messages you’ve missed. The adoption of Catch Up in iOS 17 could be an oblique sign that Apple is bridging the gap between iMessage group chats and an SMS/MMS chat that includes other types of phones. While we’ll have to wait for the release of iOS 17 this fall to confirm, a simple indicator that helps organize any conversation only serves to help when chatting with friends or family.

A screenshot showing a transcribed audio message in iOS 17

You will see audio message transcripts in iOS 17.

Apple; CNET screenshots

Audio message transcription brings a great Pixel feature to iPhone

Google’s Pixel phones have included various audio transcription features for years, with the Pixel 7 series adding the ability to transcribe any audio message received within the Google Messages app. Now Apple plans to bring the feature to its line of iPhones using iOS 17.

New audio messages received in the Messages app will be transcribed automatically, which is a boon for accessibility. For someone who prefers to do audio messages, the gist will be instantly available to the recipient, and sometimes, that transcript might be more than enough.

Until the transcription feature is adopted in more services, however, anyone who frequently sends audio messages should remember to be patient as they wait for others to have a chance to listen.

Swipe to reply in iOS 17

Apple is adding a swipe to reply feature to its Messages app.


Swipe to answer fits right (or left).

I’ve been using Signal a lot lately, and like Telegram, it offers the ability to quickly reply to messages with a swipe. It’s faster than pressing and holding on a message and then tapping a corresponding option.

Swipe to Reply could streamline the menu of options that pop up when you press and hold on a message. Apple’s Messages app already includes shortcuts for emoji reactions, replying, copying, translating, and a “More…” option for selecting more text. By moving it to a swipe action, Apple may eventually decide to add additional functionality to this menu or simplify the menu down to the basics.

In an unrelated organizational move, Apple moved iMessage apps from a row above the keyboard in the Messages app to a list that opens when you tap a plus sign icon. It shows that Apple is trying to downgrade where they can and make responses faster.

A screenshot of voice typing in Apple's messaging app

Apple says voice typing is getting better in iOS 17.

Apple; CNET screenshots

The iMessage improvements are (hopefully) yet to come

While we wait for the final version of iOS 17, due out this fall, there’s a chance that even more Messages features will be added as Apple continues development. For example, the XDA Developers website says that the iOS 17 developer beta keeps a number of iMessage features available for group chats with Android phones. If this does indeed go public, it could be a relief for iPhone users who still want to use threaded replies and message edits. XDA’s report notes, however, that non-iPhone attendees may not see any of these message changes.

We’ll eventually have to wait for the official release of iOS 17 to see if all of these iMessage features announced at WWDC make it or if some will be pushed to a later release. For example, iOS 15’s SharePlay missed the operating system’s September launch that year, but arrived a month later. But the fact that these messaging improvements are in the pipeline shows that substantial improvements to iPhone text messaging are on the way.

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