iOS 16 will change iMessage in a most fundamental way

Craig Federighi iOS 16
(Image credit: Apple)

iOS 16 is packed full of major interface and feature changes, but only one will potentially alter the course of human communication: the ability to unsend, unread, and, most importantly, edit sent messages.

For as long as we've had iPhones and Messages, we've shared untold numbers of tiny text messages full of malapropisms, embarrassing typos, and hilarious autocorrects. Message mistakes are so pervasive that it's part of our culture. There are entire websites devoted to, for instance, cataloging particularly egregious auto corrects, or as they're more commonly referred to, "Damn You Autocorrect."

The latter refers to Apple's own auto-fill system, changing words you intended or "correcting" your text typos into something silly or, often, embarrassing.

But even without autocorrect mistakes, there are:

  • Drunk texts
  • Angry texts
  • Incomplete texts sent too soon
  • Texts to the wrong people

I have experience in the last category, having once sent a text about the need to pick up more toilet paper to a business contact instead of my wife.

We've all been there.

iOS 16, which Apple unveiled on Monday at its WWDC 2022 keynote, stands a chance of wiping that all away with three simple features, one of which will either be a godsend or cause for new controversy.

Unsend is, of course, a big deal. The text that sounded good in your head but comes across as dismissive, angry, or insensitive, could be gone, and possibly never even seen by the recipient.

Being able to change a read text into an unread one has its benefits, too. Your friend asks you to dog sit and, knowing you read the message, awaits your response. Instead of dealing, you turn the message into unread and hope that your friend asks someone else - even though they can still see that you read the message.

The biggie, though, is editing texts after you've sent them. You could fix a misspelled name, remove the part of the message that was maybe too honest or personal, or simply fix that embarrassing typo or autocorrect.

Goodbye Message fun, hello rational text conversations.

The ability to change the record of a conversation is not all about eradicating text-based mistakes. Some might use it to change the record, insisting they never texted "that thing" to you, though changed messages will say they've been edited. The ability to wipe the texting slate clean, knowing you can quickly remove any traces of that offensive text, should not be a license to say anything you want.

The big caveat here is that all of these options are only available to you for 15 minutes. After that, your mistakes are frozen in time and the embarrassment is permanent.

In addition, this is an Apple iOS 16 Messages feature, not a global SMS one. Mistakes and bad texts sent to your Android friends and their green text boxes will be just as permanent as ever.

For those iPhone users, who will upgrade to iOS 16 this fall, their text communications are about to undergo a sea change. They might even start aggressively editing texts throughout that first 15 minutes as a kind of competition, turning the whole thing into a new kind of game.

It won't have the same kind of comedic punch as Damn You Autocorrect, but it might be a new kind of texting fun.

Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.