How to use iMessage apps in iOS 11

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iMessage apps
Delicious, juicy stickers. Mmmm.
Photo: Cult of Mac

iMessage apps aren’t all about stickers. They’re also a neat and handy way to share information from your favorite regular apps. And in iOS 11, they’ve become a lot easier to use. In iOS 10, iMessage apps required several taps just to get to a list to choose what you wanted. In iOS 11, there’s a brand-new dock at the bottom of the app which lets you quickly swipe and tap to the exact app you want, even if you have a lot of them active.

What’s the point of iMessage apps?

You can do a lot with iMKessage apps, and they're easier to use in iOS 11.
You can do a lot with iMKessage apps, and they’re easier to use in iOS 11.
Photo: Apple

iMessage apps give you quick access to some features of regular apps — if those apps have added iMessage support. For instance, you can use the Dropbox app to share a recent file, you can you the CityMapper app to share your location, or use the Pedometer++ app to share your day’s step count.

There are also apps which are designed to work inside the iMessage app. For instance, there are many apps which will let you and a group of friends arrange a date, by letting everyone mark the times they are available. There are even multi-player games that work inside an iMessage thread.

Often, it’s possible to share this information from the main app by using the standard iOS share sheet, and picking iMessage as a destination, but iMessage apps are way more convenient if you spend a lot of time in the app.

The iMessage Dock

The heart of iMessage apps in iOS 11 is the iMessage app dock, a little swipe-able dock which appears at the bottom of the screen when you open a message thread. This dock contains all your active iMessage apps (you can switch off the ones you don’t want –more on that below), and you can just swipe left and right if the list is too long to fit on the screen. Tap the one you want to use, and it fills the space that would usually be taken any the keyboard. To expand the app to almost full-screen, tap the little up arrow at the top of this view.

The new dock is way better than the old way of accessing apps. In iOS 10, you would have to tap the little A symbol, then either swipe from one app to the next (which still works in iOS 11), or open the “app drawer” by tapping yet another button, which would bring up a grid of your active apps. It was almost as if Apple designed it to be clunky.

Now, you have instant access to your most-used apps, and can easily reach the rest or add more.

One tip: When you are done using an app, just tap inside the text box above the app view, and the regular keyboard will come right back.

Managing your iMessage apps in iOS 11

Manage your iMessage apps here.
Manage your iMessage apps here.
Photo: Apple

If you don’t like the apps in your dock — you may have too many, or not the ones you prefer to use — then you can easily customize it. Just swipe to the rightmost end of the app dock, and tap the More button (three dots in a lozenge). This takes you to a screen listing all your apps. From here, you can just access the app you want by tapping it. But you can also customize the dock.

To customize the iMessage app dock, tap Edit, and toggle the switches to choose the apps you want to a appear in the dock. If you tap the little green + next to an active app, then it will be added to your favorites. To remove and app from favorites, tap the red . You can drag favorites to reorder them.

Your favorites will now appear on the left side of the dock, and the rest can be reached by swiping left.

Adding new iMessage apps in iOS 11

Just tap the little App Store icon (by default it’s at the leftmost end of the dock), and then tap Visit Store. This opens up the iMessage App Store, where you can buy iMessage apps, and sticker packs, just like in the regular App Store. New apps bought here will appear in the iMessage dock (if they don’t, then you can switch them on by following the steps above). And as we mentioned, many regular apps build in iMessage app functions, so you can often find some cool new features for iMessage just by checking out your list of iMessage apps.

Finally, if you find that all this iMessage fun is filling up your iPhone’s storage, then iOS has you covered. There are now new settings that let iOS auto-delete old conversations, and storage-hogging attachments. See our in-depth how-to for details.