Text messaging is cool.  But where are its borders?

Text messaging is cool. But where are its borders?

The text messaging app has always been the most used on my phone. It’s fun and efficient, and it’s often a faster way to get a response than sending an email or making a phone call.

Yet even though Apple delivered a slew of new text messaging features in a software update this week — and Google has made improvements to its Android Messenger app over the years, like adding colorful emojis — texting still leaves a lot to be desired.

Apple’s latest software system, iOS 16, which was released on Monday, includes improvements to its iMessage app. Texts can now be edited after they’ve been sent to eliminate embarrassing typos, and messages can be removed. Google’s Messages app for Android also has tools that automatically generate replies to text messages.

These changes help us avoid embarrassing situations and save time, but they don’t solve a larger societal problem: texting is distracting, demanding and, at least sometimes, stressful.

The advantages of text messaging can easily turn into disadvantages. Since texting usually only takes a few seconds and is widely regarded as the most urgent and interesting form of digital communication, it is difficult to set boundaries around texting with our colleagues and friends. Texting invites us to encroach on other people’s time.

“Where does your work end and your personal life begin? said Justin Santamaria, one of the iPhone engineers who developed the iMessage app over a decade ago. “It’s something everyone has struggled with for the past three years, and it plays out on your home screen.”

Texting isn’t the safest form of communication either, especially in a post-Roe era where privacy is more important than ever, said Caitlin George, chief executive of Fight for the Future, an advocacy group. digital rights.

“It should be something that everyone should have and not have to worry about or think about,” she said of the need for a universal private messaging service.

The new messaging features are easy to use. On iPhones running iOS 16, pressing and holding a sent message opens options to edit or remove it. Android users can open Google’s Messages app, enter settings, and toggle “Enable chat features” to use new texting technology, called Rich Communication Services.

Here’s my wishlist for improving texting.

We need a message away

To minimize the likelihood of us being bombarded with text messages, Apple and Google have added layers of settings to let others know when we’re busy. Yet the tools are ineffective.

Apple’s iOS includes Focus, a tool released last year to manage how phone notifications appear in various aspects of our lives, including at work, at home, when we drive or go to bed. . In a work profile, for example, Focus can be configured to let text and phone notifications only come from colleagues; anyone not on the approved list receives a message that notifications are not being received.

My problem with Focus is that it’s too complex. Setting up each Focus profile takes time and effort to schedule a Focus to turn on at certain times or to remember to turn the feature on or off. In my experience, even when my Focus setting tells people I’m not getting notifications, they still text me.

Google’s messaging app has a so-called smart reply tool, which automatically generates possible replies to a text message, including one that says you’re busy. But you still have to manually select an answer.

Text messaging apps from Apple and Google would benefit from a much simpler tool: the away message.

AOL Instant Messenger, one of the first online messaging services, from the 1990s, had a simple autoresponder with a memo that users could use to tell people why they were unavailable. Slack, the chat app for workplace collaboration, can show an away status like “on vacation until Monday.” It is effective in blocking people from sending a message.

We need a planning tool

One of the beauties of text messaging is the ability to share something – like an idea or a photo – immediately. But the iPhone messaging app still lacks an easy way to avoid harassing people at unreasonable hours: the ability to schedule a message to send later.

This is where Android’s messaging app has a clear advantage. Last year, Google added a scheduling tool. After composing a message, press and hold the send button. A “Schedule sending” button appears, allowing you to set a time and date for sending the text. It’s useful because we often send SMS at unreasonable times for fear of forgetting to send it later, and a scheduling tool solves this problem.

We need Apple and Google to work together

The lack of interoperability between iPhone and Android messaging services makes photos and videos pixelated when sent between Android and iPhone, a dreaded digital phenomenon known as the “green bubble” effect.

At a tech conference last week, a member of the public raised this issue with Apple CEO Tim Cook. During a Q&A session, Cook was asked if Apple would consider making the iPhone’s messaging service work with Google’s rich communication services so the questioner could send clearer videos to his mother. , who had an Android phone.

“I don’t hear our users asking that we put a lot of energy into it at this point,” Cook said. “Buy your mom an iPhone.”

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment.

Fight for the Future’s George said Cook’s comment was elitist because not everyone can afford an iPhone. Incompatibility between Apple’s and Google’s messaging apps has also posed a problem for digital privacy, she said.

Apple and Google encrypt their messaging apps to make messages undecipherable to anyone but the sender and recipient. But the encryption only works when Apple phones text to Apple phones and Android phones text to Android phones. When users of different mobile operating systems send text messages to each other, their messages are not encrypted, making the content readable by other parties like telephone operators.

While third-party texting apps like Signal offer encrypted messaging between Apple and Android phones, these tools aren’t as widely used as the default texting apps that come to our phones.

The content of text messages became even more sensitive after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, George said, now that law enforcement can seek data from tech companies and phone companies to prosecute women who seek abortions. That’s one reason it would be more helpful if Apple and Google found a way to work together on their messaging apps, she said.

“At a time when half the country has to worry about how they communicate about their bodily autonomy, there’s a moral obligation to get your marketing right if you tell people they can trust you,” said she said of Cook, who has staked his reputation on digital privacy.

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