This spring, Google updated its Messages app to support handling iMessage reactions. That is, instead of spamming a group chat with separate messages whenever someone responded to a text using one of iMessage’s emoji reactions known as Tapbacks, the app would now display the emoji attached to the side of the message, where it belongs. With the launch of iOS 16, Apple appears to be fixing this longstanding annoyance from its side as well.
First spotted by 9to5Mac, the feature was also tweeted out by an Apple employee on Monday as one of the many Messages updates arriving with iOS 16 and macOS Ventura. While the highlights — including message editing, mark unread, and retractions — were detailed during Apple’s WWDC keynote address on Monday, the new feature “SMS Tapback Inference” was not among them.
By design, when iMessage users are chatting with Android users, the conversation becomes an SMS chat. Even one Android user in a group chat will kill the blue bubbles — a design choice that’s helped Apple lock iPhone users into its platform, particularly U.S. teens who find the green bubble “uncool.” But the reality is that all iPhone users will end up in a chat with an Android user at some point, and in those cases, Tapback emoji reactions are turned into spam texts.
Instead of displaying the emoji alongside the message, as intended, users get separate (and very annoying!) additional texts that someone liked, loved, or otherwise reacted to a given message when the chat is taking place across mobile platforms. This clutters up group chats, leads to excessive notifications, and just generally makes for a poor user experience.
Apple is thankfully addressing this issue, as it will now better interoperate with Android on this emoji reaction feature. Instead of getting an extra text, the emoji reaction will appear alongside the message the user is reacting to — but in green to indicate its Android origins.
Although the newer communication standard RCS supports emoji reactions natively, Apple has yet to roll out RCS support — perhaps because RCS is too similar to iMessage with its features like typing indicators, read receipts, higher quality picture messages, and more.
But this feature at least allows cross-platform messaging to be less problematic.