3. As a play for Chinese consumers
When the new iMessage was announced in June, Jan Koum tweeted that he was “flattered to see Apple ‘borrow’ numerous WhatsApp features.” Koum is the founder of WhatsApp. He became a billionaire when Facebook bought that product two years ago.
If there’s an aesthetic that the new iMessage really borrows from, however, it’s WeChat’s. WeChat is the leading Chinese messaging app with 700 million monthly active users. Ninety percent of its users live in China. WeChat broadly uses a distinctly Sino-tech aesthetic. Confetti, stickers, and sound effects all defined WeChat before they deployed elsewhere. In adopting these elements, iMessage would seem to be aiming for WeChat’s market, especially in China.
In some ways, it’s a downmarket version of the company’s $10,000 18-karat gold Watch. With that device, Apple was making a play for the globally wealthy: The company has grown to be the largest in the world partly on the size of its profit margins, and if it could have $9,000 margins on a $400 gadget, all the better.
With the confetti-fied iMessage, it may be aiming for a different group of non-Westerners. And it’s demonstrating again that it will adjust its spartan design ethos to do it.
4. As a revision of what the iPhone is.
One of the first iMessage extensions that Apple encourages you to install is Venmo. It bumps the social payment aspect of Venmo from the main app to the iMessage pane. In other words, instead of handling rent or beer payment in a separate app, now you can send your friends money without ever leaving the text thread.
Other standalone messaging apps have allowed app extensions like this. You can already call an Uber from within Facebook Messenger, and Snapchat has let you send money to your friends for almost two years. But they’re not iMessage, which exerts considerable influence simply by handling all text messages by default.
The Venmo extension suggests that any app with a major social component can be respun as an iMessage extension. (There is also already a Words With Friends app for iMessage.) More and more interactions will start from within iMessage—something that will be even easier, as iOS 10 now lets you launch an app from the unlocked home screen.
When the iPhone 6S was released last year, I wrote that new iPhones were primarily compelling to consumers by dint of their being upgraded cameras. The new iMessage fills out this realist (and, honestly, simplistic) vision. Never mind the phone in the name: An iPhone is a camera that also sends magical, invisible telegrams.