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If you’ve downloaded the new iOS onto your iPhone, I’m sure you have a number of opinions, and possibly a few complaints. There are some noticeable changes, beginning right at the lock screen, where “Slide to unlock” is now a thing of the past, replaced by the more time-consuming and difficult-to-remember “Press home to unlock”. The most notable difference, however, is the new messaging system. The update has added a variety of effects to iMessage, including animated messages, the ability to “like” messages, handwritten notes, and the introduction of an integrated app store within the iMessage system.

iMessage's update has made conversations much more animated- photo taken by me

Image courtesy of Nick Jaeckel 

Whereas previously you had to go through an arduous process to add a new keyboard to your iMessage by entering System Preferences and allowing access, now you are able to download the same keyboards, as well as stickers and GIFs directly from the iMessage app. All the GIFs and RuPaul reactions you want to share with your friends are now easily accessible through an in-app download. You also now have the option to react to your friends’ texts by pressing on their message and choosing between a number of reactions, including familiar ones like a heart and a thumbs up. This ability to react to specific messages closely resembles the reactions offered by Facebook. These updates introduce to the iPhone user a new layer to the Apple messaging system- one where there is more social interaction between the participants.

These additions will undoubtedly cause iPhone users to spend more time on the iMessage app due to the expanding options as to how to communicate with friends. Apple has also utilized the new iMessage app store by pre-downloading Apple Music onto iMessage, now allowing users to send music to their friends. This all may seem like slight changes and a natural evolution in the iMessaging system, but it also hints at something much bigger. Apple just might be beginning to connect its own apps to create a consolidated quasi-social network.

Don’t get me wrong, whatever Apple ends up creating will most likely never be a Facebook 2.0, but it very well could create a new type of social network- one not as vast and far-reaching as those we’re currently familiar with. This new social network would be a much more personal experience for the user, and only shared with their closest friends, i.e the ones they are in constant communication with over group chats. It could never replace Facebook, but it could become a second platform for people to act more like their truer self without concerning themselves over the hundreds of “friends” who might judge them for it.

So what’s next for iMessage? If the end game is a miniature social network for iPhone users, Apple should pursue characteristics of preexisting social networks. Something similar to Snapchat video sharing would be a good first step, where users could send short videos to individuals or groups. Picture and video are currently dominating social media, and iOS 10 has not addressed the faults that exist in Apple’s operating system regarding seamless media sharing. Apple would also need to address the fact that this social network would be somewhat exclusive, as iMessage is currently only available to those who own Apple products, severely limiting the potential reach. However, if Facebook has taught us anything, it’s that exclusivity can work when executed correctly. The direction Apple plans to go in is still unclear, but entering social networking seems like a promising progression for the company. Maybe the next iOS update will give us some more definitive answers, or maybe it will just make it even more difficult to unlock our phones.

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