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Why Are Some iPhone Messages Green and Some Blue? Does It Matter?

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Topic:   Why Are Some iPhone Messages Green and Some Blue? Does It Matter?


Why Are Some iPhone Messages Green and Some Blue? Does It Matter?

Some of your text messages in iPhone’s Message app are green. Some are blue. What does it mean and do the color designations even matter? Read on as we explain the curious case of the chromatic messages and why it does it fact matter.

Dear How-To Geek,

I recently got an iPhone and I noticed something odd. When I message some of my friends my text messages are blue. When I message other friends my text messages are green. Regardless, the messages I receive back from my friends are always gray.

What’s the deal? I’ve tried looking at the contact data for each friend to find some sort of clue but there’s no pattern. What do the colors mean? And whatever they mean, does it even matter?


Color Curious

At first glance it is a curiosity and a difference that most new iPhone users notice immediately: in iOS 7 and above some messages appear in blue and some in green. Messages from the other party always appear in gray.

For both your benefit and that of the readers following along at home, let’s compare two messages side by side to highlight the differences.

In the above screenshots we have two message exchanges. On the left, and in green, is a humorous exchange between my brother and I regarding National Siblings Day. On the right, and in blue, is an exchange between my wife and I regarding when to meet for lunch.

The reason we framed them side by side is to make the differences more obvious. When you’re looking each message separately when switching between them in the Message app the differences don’t jump out as readily.

You’ll note that the green message exchange has no delivery indicator nor typing indicator whereas the blue message exchange both includes a delivery indicator (under the blue message it says “Delivered”) and the blinking ellipses indicating that the other party is typing a reply. How can you see that the other party is typing a reply SMS message when SMS messages are composed and then delivered as one transmission? That’s a rather clever magic trick, no?

The magic trick is that the blue messages are not SMS messages at all. The giveaway, and we don’t fault you for overlooking it given how subtle it is, can be found in the reply text box. In the green exchange the reply box background text is “Text Message” and in the blue exchange the background text in the reply box is “iMessage.”

The reason you get delivery confirmations and typing indicators in your blue message exchanges and not your green message exchanges is that the blue messages aren’t actually SMS/MMS messages at all but are instant messages sent through your phone’s data connection using Apple’s iMessage instant messaging protocol. Looking just at the two exchanges you can deduce that my brother doesn’t have an iPhone (or has iMessaging disabled) and that my wife and I are both using iPhones with iMessaging enabled.

If you’re an iPhone user and you’ve never seen blue text before that means you’ve got iMessage disabled. You can activate it by navigating to Settings -> Messages.

There are two relevant toggles (both of which are turned on by default on new iPhones): iMessage to turn iMessaging on and off and “Send as SMS” to fallback on SMS messaging when iMessage isn’t available.

Now that we’ve learned what the difference between the blue and green text is and how to toggle it on and off, the final part of your question comes to bear: does it even matter?

iMessage is great in that it saves you from incurring any SMS/MMS charges as it relies strictly on cellular data and not on SMS fee schedules. For people with unlimited texting plans this isn’t as big of a deal but back in 2011 when iMessage was introduced it was saving people a bundle (and still saves those with pay-per-message plans a bundle).

It also allows you to send large files easily; most cellular providers restrict MMS file size to a few MB whereas iMessage will large files. How large? Although the documentation on the Apple website use to list the file size as 100MB field tests have show the file size can be as large as ~190MB. That’s a huge step up from getting your MMS rejected because it’s 3.1 instead of 3MB.

Finally iMessage has fantastic group chat, a feature that has alluded other mobile operating systems for ages. It works best when everyone is using an iPhone (as group chat with non-iPhone users is erratic and definitely hit-or-miss).

In short, unless you have a pressing anti-Apple privacy concern (which would be curious given that you own an iPhone) there’s really no reason to not use iMessage as it works amazingly well when you’re on a data network, it falls back to SMS when your carrier’s data network is unavailable (or you’re not on Wi-Fi), and the Message app works just fine with plain old SMS/MMS when you’re messaging someone who doesn’t have an iPhone.


Joel1988,  2015-04-19 16:07:21