Creating iMessage Apps Your Users Will Love
Cassie Wallace
Cassie Wallace

Creating iMessage Apps Your Users Will Love

Cassie Wallace, Senior Product Manager

Since being introduced with iOS 10 last fall, iMessage apps have been relatively under-leveraged.

Some interesting examples exist: Tinder has extended its famous swipe interface to help friends advise on critical selfie decisions and you can pay your buddy for last night’s taco binge with Venmo without skipping a beat. However, with the newness of the platform, many brands and services are unsure about the opportunity or the best practices for designing an iMessage app.

If leveraging more of the Apple ecosystem is part of your product strategy in 2017, you may want to investigate iMessage. After downloading and researching the dozens of iMessage app in the store today, some common themes appeared for how to best approach the new medium.

In exploring the platform, I downloaded and researched dozens of iMessage apps in the store today, and compared their user experiences with what we’ve seen in initial user research and the way that Apple themselves frame iMessage interactions.

Based on this extensive investigation, 5 key themes emerged on how to build iMessage apps your users will use and love:

  • Enrich existing activities
  • Keep it simple
  • Provide standalone use
  • Keep compact view… compact
  • Give context in messages

Enrich Existing Activities

Since the entire concept is still so new to users, the best place to begin is by enriching the activities they are already doing.

For example, it’s easy to imagine texting with friends about seeing a movie. You don’t know what they have already seen, or when they’re free, but you have a movie in mind. The Fandango iMessage app helps users with this common scenario: Which movie should we see? When can we go? Who’s buying the tickets?, allowing users to move through the activity within their pre-existing context of text messaging.

Consider how your customers might already be using messages in relation to your brand or service. How could rich and interactive messages enhance that experience, making it easier or even more fun?

Keep It Simple

Once you’ve defined the activity you’ll support, stick to that key feature and keep it quick. Time is sensitive during a texting interaction, and users will not be primed to stick it out for a long user flow.

While simplicity is not a new concept in user experience, it becomes paramount within an iMessage app. Because the user experience is contained within the context of Messages, there is less control over UI than in an standalone mobile app. As a result, complicated user flows can become disorienting.

Additionally, iMessage apps (both sticker pack apps and iMessage apps) can live on their own, or as an extension of an existing app. Even better, you can have multiple extensions for a single app, so you have no need to cram both stickers and five other features into one place.

When the experience is focused and simple, users are more likely to see value and adopt the new mode of interaction.

Provide Standalone Use

Similar to keeping the function of the app simple, allow users to complete the entirety of the key activity within the iMessage app without signing in or switching to another app. Reducing the number of drop-off points increases the likelihood that users will complete their task and utilize the app in the future.

Yelp does a great job of this. Without ever opening the Yelp app or logging in, users can search for and share businesses. Users search by location and, if they want to use their current location, permissions are requested within the iMessage app.

Each time someone has to switch contexts or enter more information such as a password, the chance of drop-off increases. To encourage their success, and therefore their affinity and likeliness to return to the experience, minimize this as much as possible.

Keep Compact View… Compact.

The compact view should be just that; an abbreviated, but usable version of the app’s full functionality.

The minute a user opens an iMessage app, the first thing they see is what is called the “compact view”. As implied by its naming, this view should be a consolidated or abbreviated version of the functionality available when in expanded mode. It should be immediately clear what the utility of the app is without expanding, and users should even be able to kick off the first step of their journey here. (Tapping a “Get Started” button doesn’t count.)

Give Context in Messages

Once a user has shared something from the app, give the recipient as much information as possible in the titles and captions.

Actionable text helps show the value of opening or interacting with the message to the recipient, who may not even be familiar with iMessage or the particular app. Why is the sender sharing this? What action do they want the recipient to take?

By highlighting what can be done with an interactive message, the interaction is encouraged and the chance of successful completion of the core activity increases.

Now what?

Great! You’re excited about all of the possibilities for iMessage. Where to start?

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Go straight to the source. Start by taking an hour to read through Apple’s iMessage Developer Resources and watching the videos from last summer’s WWDC. Even if you’re not an engineer, the examples and clear breakdown of implementation are super helpful in wrapping your brain around the possibilities and limitations.
  • Talk to your customers. How do they use messages today? What do they think of the iMessage apps already in your space?
  • Prioritize. Weigh the value to your business and your users against development challenges with a new platform and the possibility for low initial adoption rates. Is building an iMessage app a priority over other opportunities on your roadmap?
  • Think of it as a test. If you go for it, start by launching something as lean as possible to see how your user base interacts with the new medium. Go from there.