Apple’s iMessage is more like a work collaboration platform

Of all the Apple tools available, iMessage might seem to be the most designed for teens, friends, and families. The ease it offers when sharing media, stickers, emoji, GIFs, for example, makes it the ultimate consumer product. But he gradually became involved in a powerful enterprise messaging solution and collaboration tool. You might even consider it a basic – and free – alternative to Slack or Microsoft Teams. It’s a view that will only become more real with iOS 16 and macOS Ventura, which will expand iMessage’s enterprise capabilities when they arrive this fall.

iMessage has been around for over a decade and it offers many advantages over standard SMS and MMS messaging. It offers media and file support, group chat, read receipts, the ability to embed content from a range of other apps, and tight integration into all major Apple product lines.

Some recent additions make it even more useful for business users. Last year, Apple introduced a new Shared with You feature that displays content received in the Messages app directly in an associated app. URLs are automatically displayed in Safari, for example, and songs or albums in Apple Music. In addition to extending this feature to all platforms (including macOS Ventura), Apple will expand support for third-party apps and direct in-app collaboration.

More on that in a moment. First, let’s look at what you can do now.

Messages in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and Monterey

While iMessage will get some serious collaborative boosts in iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura, let’s take a look at how to use Messages in the Apple operating systems that currently exist.

Any enterprise-grade discussion and collaboration platform has three main components:

  • Secure communication. iMessage is end-to-end encrypted to a degree that meets regulatory compliance for rules like HIPAA in healthcare, just like FaceTime.
  • Group communications support. While one-on-one chats are important, businesses need group communications and chat threads, which iMessage has supported for a while. Group chats also let you message the whole group or specific people and support inline replies so you can easily reply (and see replies) to specific comments in the thread.
  • Status notice. Knowing that people have (or haven’t) read your post can be critical. Seeing if they are responding is also extremely helpful. iMessage supports both of these functions.

However, for a trading tool to be successful, it takes more than these basics. The ability to pin threads and the option to mute notifications on specific threads are two key features for workers who need to manage work conversations.

The ability to share media, content or files is also important. Although the Messages app for iOS/iPadOS 15 supports photo and video sharing as well as sharing links and other network addresses, at first glance it does not appear to support file sharing. and documents.

It can be done, however. And, while it’s not easy, it’s easy. You just can’t do it directly from the app. Use the Files app instead. Long-press a file, then choose to share it from the pop-up menu that appears. You can also share files from the app that created them using a standard share sheet. In both cases, Messages appears as a sharing option. Sharing in macOS is even easier: drag a file into the chat in Messages. (You can also right-click the file icon in Finder and select Share. Or you can share from the app that created the file.)

Once you share a file with group chat, all chat participants receive the file and can comment and discuss it in the thread. This provides a basis for collaboration. Everyone can see and discuss the same documents or files in real time. In many cases, this type of discussion is easier than relying on features like track changes and comments in a productivity app, because the discussion is interactive and avoids cluttering the document with a large number of comments and responses.

To make sure you have easy access to communications wherever you are (and whatever device you’re using), Apple provides Messages in iCloud. This backs up all your conversations to iCloud, ensures your messages are synced across all devices (including new devices as they are set up), and lets you access your messages through iCloud’s web interface if you don’t have access to your Apple devices. You can also extend Messages in iCloud into business environments through services like Apple Business Essentials and Managed Apple IDs.

In addition to using it as a business communication solution, you can pair Messages with FaceTime to give your team real-time video and audio calling capabilities. FaceTime will let you share your screen in real time and show apps like Keynote or PowerPoint. As with messages, work environments can link it to Managed Apple IDs.

Although not generally positioned as such by Apple, this combination of features meets many of the basic communication and collaboration needs of most business users. It’s not as designed as Slack or Microsoft Teams, but the functionality is there nonetheless and at no extra cost; this makes it a viable option, especially for smaller business environments when used with Apple Business Essentials.

Coming Soon… Messages as a Collaboration Powerhouse

While iMessage as a platform already offers some serious communication and collaboration options, macOS Ventura and iOS 16/iPadOS 16 will expand on them in several important ways, especially when it comes to integrating Messages collaboration. with third-party apps.

The first extension is in the Shared with you feature. Currently, this feature allows a handful of Apple’s stock apps to grab content from Messages and make it readily available in the appropriate app: links in Safari, articles in News, images or videos in Photos, songs and albums in Music, shows in the TV app. , and podcasts in the Podcasts app. This makes it easy to review a post without worrying about storing attached items so you can find them later.

Currently, Shared with You is limited to six apps and a relatively small number of content or media types. Apple announced last month at WWDC, however, that this feature would be available for third-party apps. This way, any developer can add support for it to their app for all relevant content types. The same Shared with you shelf design (the area of ​​the app interface where Messages items are displayed) will be available.

This has great potential for those of us who use these tools in a professional context. During a workday, a wide range of media and file types can be shared through Messages, across many threads. Being able to view your messages and easily retrieve shared content via native apps later allows for extremely streamlined workflows and the ability to easily switch between shared content and the message thread it originated from. This simplifies reviewing and responding directly to the message regarding a content item. And it also helps you avoid missing content when scrolling through message threads.

The second, even more powerful extension is the integration of Messages directly into apps that support collaboration. When an app with collaboration functionality (say one that supports change tracking like Word or Pages) is integrated with Messages, a collaboration workflow can be launched in the app. The document can be shared via Messages (as well as FaceTime) with individual users or a group.

When a collaboration is shared with a group, each member receives a copy of the document via Messages. As each person opens the document, their actions will be reported to Messages as well as the app. This happens on the device(s) of each person in the group. Messages will notify all users whenever someone makes a change to the document and provide a link directly into the document where the change was made. Users can comment directly inline with the change notice to discuss the changes.

If a user has the document open, they will be able to see all users who are currently interacting with or editing the document. This allows you to do real-time communication and editing simultaneously. If multiple users are accessing the document in real time, they can also convert the collaboration to an audio or video FaceTime call that incorporates screen sharing and group editing.

These features greatly extend the existing track edits and comments capabilities that many business apps already support, and they combine this functionality with existing collaboration capabilities in Messages and FaceTime. The result is a single, consistent experience for communication, content sharing, group chat, and collaborative editing. What’s particularly powerful is that it will give developers who may not have explored collaboration features a relatively easy path to adding real-time collaboration to their applications, extending beyond the somewhat limited set of business and productivity apps that implemented certain versions or track changes like Office or iWork.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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