The hero changes to iMessage in iOS 16 are the addition of edit button and undo send features. However, there’s also another enhancement that Apple didn’t mention on stage: the dreaded Tapback spam in SMS group chats has been resolved.
Apple is now using a very similar strategy to the hacky workaround that Google rolled out earlier this year to tackle the same problem for Android users receiving Tapback messages from iPhone users …
Obviously, iMessage has always worked elegantly with Tapbacks with the little symbols appearing above whatever message has been reacted to. When an iPhone user attempts to chat outside of iMessage and send a Tapback however, as a compatibility fallback the iPhone instead sends an SMS.
iPhone users don’t normally see this frustration as they are communicating over iMessage. However, any group chat with a ‘green bubble’ Android user would mean the entire group chat devolves to SMS chat. This would be a common catalyst for Tapback spam, with a new auto-generated Tapback SMS being sent every time anyone in the group chat added a Messages reaction.
Google’s messaging app on Android recently rolled out a workaround to combat this which hides the Tapback messages altogether, and re-interpret them as emoji annotations to the corresponding message.
With iOS 16, Apple has brought this solution to iOS too so iPhone users will also no longer see the Tapback spam. Instead of a green bubble message saying ‘ Jon liked “I love pizza” ‘, the heart Tapback will now automatically appear above Jon’s message. Although it’s still backed by SMS text messages behind the scenes, iPhone and Android users running up-to-date software will now be none the wiser.
Of course, the technological successor to SMS, RCS, supports inline conversation reactions natively. However, Apple has yet to sign on to support the RCS protocol and that stance did not change at WWDC. So, smartphone operating systems are doomed to waste CPU cycles performing text analysis for years to come.
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