iMessage, the new free messaging service introduced in iOS 5, is easy to set up, but group messaging can be a bit harder to work out straight away. There are a couple of limitations to know about, but other than that, group messages work really well with iMessage.
Starting a group message
To start a group conversation, open Messages and tap the compose button in the top right corner, which looks like a pencil inside a square.
You’ll be taken to the New Message screen, which contains the “To:” field. On the right edge of the screen is a blue plus icon, which you can tap to select a contact to add to the conversation. You can also type a person’s name, phone number or email address directly into the field to add them that way. If you do add multiple people, the message will be sent to all the people listed, forming a group conversation automatically.
Participating in a group conversation
If you receive an iMessage as part of a group chat, the conversation’s entry in the Messages app will have the group icon (which looks like the silhouette of two people) to the left of it.
It’s easy to tell which participant sent the message even in a group chat; the person’s name will appear above the message itself when you look at the conversation.
When you reply to the conversation, everyone will receive the message.
Limits of group iMessage conversations
There are a few caveats when using iMessage for group conversations. Firstly, when adding contacts to the conversation, make sure you enter everyone’s name the first time, because the participants of a group chat can’t be edited after the first message has been sent. In order to add people after that, you’ll have to set up an entirely new conversation.
Another thing to keep an eye on when setting up a group chat is that the bubbles in the To field stay blue. If they turn green, it means that one of the recipients can’t receive iMessages, so the entire conversation will be sent using SMS instead. If this happens, wait a few seconds in case they turn blue again, as sometimes it takes a second to check that all recipients are able to use iMessage. You can still send group messages via SMS, but it won’t have all the features of iMessage.
Something else to know
The good news is that anything you can send in an iMessage to a single person can be sent in a group message. That’s text, photos, videos, audio and contacts. However, it’s not clear whether sending a group iMessage uses more mobile data than a single message does, so keep an eye out when sending attachments to multiple people that you don’t go over any usage limits you may have on your plan.