LOS ANGELES — If you’ve got an iPhone, your messaging is about to become far more visual.
At Apple’s event Wednesday, when it’s expected to tout new iPhones, a new Apple Watch and a refresh of the Macintosh computer line, the company is also expected to push a big text-message feature for the new phone and others.
With the iOS 10 mobile operating system update, you’ll be able to use more than just emojis to help your texts stand out.
Apple, in what the company has billed as its biggest update for iMessages to date, is looking to emulate Snapchat and Asia’s WeChat by bringing stickers, funny faces, animated balloons and more to the native iPhone text-message platform.
As it’s doing with the Siri digital personal assistant, it has opened up iMessages to app developers.The company has added an app-like “store” to bring third-party apps into the program.
Developers hope this makes it easier for consumers to find their products. Currently, to use other features in iMessage, a user needs to leave the program to search in the big iTunes app store, which has more than 2 million apps.
The update is similar to the upgraded version of the Facebook Messenger app, which opened up to outside apps earlier this year.
The beta version of IOS 10, out now, has a handful of available apps, photos, music and GIFs that can be added to texts. Apple is planning on adding many more when IOS 10 is officially released. Apple traditionally updates the new IOS in mid to late September, usually days before the release of the new iPhone.
“Apple wants you using Apple services on their platform,” says Benjamin Mayo, an app developer and blogger for the 9to5 Mac website. The company “is worried about losing it to third parties. Facebook Messenger and Snapchat are huge on IOS. Apple doesn’t want the iPhone to become this shell where other apps become more dominant.”
Apple declined to comment.
The current iTunes top download charts shows how Apple is feeling the heat in messaging: No. 2 is Bitmoji, owned by Snapchat, which itself is No. 5, and Facebook Messenger is No. 7. Apple’s iMessages is pre-loaded on iPhones.
Facebook updated its Messenger earlier this year with a slew of new features including more visuals (photos, GIFs,) the ability to hail a cab with Lyft or Uber directly from the app, payments and file saving to Dropbox. In July, Facebook said the Messenger app now serves over 1 billion users.
London-based Mayo recently created an app offering stickers of monsters making funny faces, which he expects to be available when IOS 10 launches. He says creating stickers is so easy for developers, he expects to see “thousands” of stickers available with IOS 10. “It’s a great marketing opportunity for any company,” he says.
JibJab, which offers ways to include your funny face dancing around in its own app, will be prominently displayed in the iMessages platform. For JibJab, that means people won’t have to leave Messages, open the JibJab app, and do the heavy lifting from there.
Other third-party apps for iMessages will include Circle and Square Cash for payments, ride-hailing app Lyft and e-commerce site Spring.
For Circle, adding payments to iMessages reduces “the friction,” for consumers, says CEO Jeremy Allaire. “There’s a hurdle to have to install a smartphone app so that I can pay my buddy and all the inputting and set up. To do it all within the iMessages app is a lot easier.”
For anyone who wants to check out IOS 10 now, backup your device first, then go to beta.apple.com.
The big image options in iMessages:
Photos and GIFs. Apple offers a host of available photos you can add to messages. The current offering includes President Obama and Donald Trump, funny cats and celebrities Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon. You can also search the Apple database to add singers Ariana Grande and Rihanna, clips from TV shows like The Good Wife, and Orange is the New Black, with little captions, and the videogame character Picachu. You can also, as always, add your own photos from the Photo Library to texts.
Drawings and fireworks: You can draw anything with your fingers, or add digital renditions of a kiss, fireball, heartbeat and heartbreak with different finger taps.
Rival Google announced its own new messaging app, Allo, in May. It’s similar to the iMessages update, offering more images and bigger text to plain messages. But the app has yet to be released.
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham
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