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This is probably an embarrassingly noobish question.

I sent a standard SMS text message from my iPhone 6 to a colleague's iPhone, who mentioned that my message was green and not blue, and that meant I hadn't activated something or wasn't using the right app to take advantage of iMessaging.

Currently I don't use apps beyond what came with my phone. To send SMS text messages I use the green callout balloon button that's near the phone button.

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My colleague said I could save money by using iMessage instead of paying for each SMS text message. I countered by saying that if it's not SMS then that means I'd have to keep my phone connected to the internet 24/7 to receive messages and I don't do that.

My colleague then said something like it does but doesn't use SMS, so I wouldn't have to maintain an internet connection 24/7 to receive prompt iMessages and yet would not have to pay for SMS messages when I did.

A quick search turns up plenty of tutorials about how to use iMessages but so far I have not found a clear and concise explanation.

Is it possible to explain in a few clear sentences how the messaging functionality works on my iPhone 6 and when internet is used and when traditional SMS messages are used? For example:

  • Does it check first for an active internet connection on the sender's phone?
  • Does it also check if the recipient is also connected to the internet?
  • Could a message go out as an iMessage and then not be delivered even though the recipient could have received an SMS text message?
  • SMS are delivered even if your phone is offline for a while as well :-) Anyway, have you signed up for iCloud and configured iMessage accordingly? – nohillside Nov 23 '19 at 7:06
  • @nohillside I know how SMS works, but it's the way Apple's app has mixed together two totally different messaging services with different connectivity dependences and sources of latency that's had me confused. I think that once I start with the iMessaging to a given contact I'll never be able to force a fast SMS to the same contact. So I'm going to avoid the app because I like the way SMS messages tend to get there within a minute or two as long as the recipient's phone on and not in airplane mode. – uhoh Nov 23 '19 at 7:17
  • @nohillside I mean I'm going to avoid ever letting the app start sending iMessages because I like the way SMS works, and if I start allowing iMessaging then (if I understand correctly) I won't be able to force an SMS. That may be best addressed as a separate question. If I can't find that it's been asked already, I'll ask "How can I force an SMS in messages?" update: that's been asked several times, okay I'll read those. – uhoh Nov 23 '19 at 7:34
  • iMessages get there within seconds as well, as long as both parties are online. – nohillside Nov 23 '19 at 10:05
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    As with SMS actually :-) – nohillside Nov 23 '19 at 10:39
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To send SMS text messages I use the green callout balloon button that's near the phone button.

You are using the correct app.

My colleague said I could save money by using iMessage instead of paying for each SMS text message.

Your colleague is absolutely right. At least in this context. iMessage is Apple's Internet messaging service. You can send an iMessage to anyone who has an Apple device (such as iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac desktop or laptop computer etc.). The requirements is that the recipient must have registered their Apple ID with iMessage service and enabled iMessage. Either of email address (Apple ID) or mobile number (associated with your iPhone) can be registered with iMessage and can be used as sending destination.

The same Messages app is used for sending both an iMessage and SMS to contacts and recipients. An SMS is identified with a green bubble while an iMessage is identified with a blue bubble.

Additionally, you need not remain online all the time for iMessage to work, if either the sender of receiver is offline (not connected to the Internet), the sent message gets stored on device or Apple's servers respectively, and dispatched as soon as the Internet connectivity is restored (either via Mobile Data or Wi-Fi). It in a way works for how email works. Unlike some other messaging app, there's no concept of user being "online" or "offline" in iMessage.

When the recipient is either using a non iPhone phone or they don't have their number registered with iMessage service, your text message gets sent as a plain SMS, and all the same restrictions apply (character count, carrier charges). However, iMessage allows you to send text messages, media such as photos and videos and with iMessage apps stickers etc.

It's important to note that iMessage is a service available free of cost and is exclusive to Apple ecosystem of devices.

You can force an iMessage to be sent as a plain SMS if you suspect the recipient may have their Internet connection (Mobile Data or Wi-Fi) turned off, and you want the message to get across as quickly as possible (as an SMS is sent over cellular network).

Is it possible to explain in a few clear sentences how the messaging functionality works on my iPhone6 and when internet is used and when traditional SMS messages are used?

Answers below inline:

Does it check first for an active internet connection on the sender's phone?

No. Sending iMessage has nothing to do with active connection on recipients end.

Does it also check if the recipient is also connected to the internet?

No. The recipient gets the message whenever they turn on Internet on their device. The messages you sent are held on Apple's computers in the meanwhile.

Could a message go out as an iMessage and then not be delivered even though the recipient could have received an SMS text message?

If a message is sent out as iMessage, it will indeed get delivered (as long as their number is registered with the iMessage service) when the recipient turns on Internet on their device.

P.S.: I can direct you to this excellent document online officially maintained by Apple, which explains iMessage service and it's features in an easy to understand way.

Messages for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac


Force Messages app to send a text message as SMS instead of an iMessage

Here's a workaround that you can use to force the Messages app to send a test message as SMS instead of iMessage to a contact's phone number. It is slight clumsy, but gets the job done in the scenarios like you described:

  1. If you have Internet access available on your iPhone via either Mobile data or Wi-Fi (indicated by the presence of appropriate icon in the iPhone's status bar), and the receivers contact number is registered with iMessage, you'll only be able to send an iMessage, irrespective of the online/offline status of the recipient. You can check if a message would be sent as an iMessage by the presence of a blue colored upward facing arrow besides your typed text message.

  2. To force the message to be sent as SMS instead, temporarily turn off Mobile Data/Wi-Fi on your iPhone to disable Internet access. You'll still only be able to send an iMessage (Blue arrow icon) as your iPhone knows that the receiver is registered with iMessage. Send the message normally.

    The message won't get sent from your iPhone due to the absence of an Internet connection. Now tap an hold on the message bubble, and you'll see an alert at the bottom of the screen with an option that says Send as Text Message. This option is not shown when you have Internet connectivity on your iPhone, or the message is already delivered to the Apple's servers.

  3. This will cause your iPhone to re-send the message as SMS. The receiver will be able to get the message even in absence of the Internet connection on their device (as long as they have cellular connectivity on their device).

  4. Don't forget to turn Mobile Data/Wi-Fi back on on your device to regain access to Internet.

  • 1
    Thank you for your speedy answer! Hypothetical: I need to send the message "Go home, don't wait for me; I've changed plans" to a contact in my messages app. This is a perfect use-case for SMS; if their phone is turned on, they'll almost certainly get it within a few minutes. But if we've started to use iMessage then they won't get it until they go home and connect to the internet because I've essentially e-mailed it to them. Have I got the basic idea correct? – uhoh Nov 23 '19 at 7:06
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    @uhoh Your assumption is correct in so far as SMS are transferred via cellular/phone connections, iMessages are transferred via data connections. So yes, if either you or the recipient don't have mobile data the message won't get through until you (to send it) and afterwards the recipient (to receive it) have internet connection. – nohillside Nov 23 '19 at 10:02
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    Nimesh, can you post the answer to "You can force an iMessage to be sent as a plain SMS" to apple.stackexchange.com/questions/260035/… please? – nohillside Nov 23 '19 at 10:04
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    Thank you very much for the edit, this is what I need to know! Ideally my question How can I ensure or force a message I'm composing to go via SMS on my iPhone 6 in iOS 12? would not have been insta-closed and you could have posted that part as an exact answer there. If it's reopened perhaps you can think about adding or moving this there. In any event, I really appreciate your additional help! – uhoh Nov 24 '19 at 14:50
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    @uhoh You are welcome. I have added an answer to the linked duplicate to your post. – Nimesh Neema Nov 24 '19 at 15:34
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iMessages are sent via the internet (cellular data or Wi-Fi).

SMS messages are sent only via cellular service.

iPhones should generally have cellular data service any time they have "phone" service. So when you can send an SMS, you should also generally be able to send an iMessage. And same for your recipient immediately receiving them.

(This of course depends on your phone plans and specific coverage/network issues.)

This is a perfect use-case for SMS; if their phone is turned on, they'll almost certainly get it within a few minutes. But if we've started to use iMessage then they won't get it until they go home and connect to the internet because I've essentially e-mailed it to them. Have I got the basic idea correct?

You do not need to be connected to your home Wi-Fi network in order to send iMessages. They are also sent and received via a cellular data plan, on the go, just as conveniently and reliably as SMS.

iMessage is also especially good when you do not have cellular service. If you're ever able to connect to Wi-Fi, you can send and receive iMessages. But not SMS messages, until you get back to cell coverage. This makes iMessage far more reliable for contacting people who live in spotty cell coverage areas.

iMessage offers huge benefits over SMS: cost, encrypted security, messaging features, reception without cellular service, significantly better group messaging, etc.

Unless there is a specific reason you or your recipient will not have data service on the go, you should use iMessage. The app will fall back to SMS if needed.

  • Thanks for your answer. I understand (somewhat) how all the connections work on my phone (voice, SMS, data/4G, WiFi, etc.) but what I don't understand is how Apple mixes access to the two totally different services SMS and iMessage in the same window, and how to know ahead of time if, for a given contact, a message is going to go out as SMS or iMessage. See this comment. – uhoh Nov 23 '19 at 7:21
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    My concern is not with the sending of the message, it is with the recipient getting it in a timely fashion. If they don't have internet connectivity, an SMS will still get there just the same. But if my phone decides to send the message as an iMessage then they won't get it until such time as they reconnect to the internet. So I need to understand better how my phone chooses between sending it by SMS, or by iMessage. – uhoh Nov 23 '19 at 7:27
  • @uhoh Most iMessage recipients never think about "connecting to the internet"... they just get their messages immediately via a data plan. In most cases where they don't receive iMessages they wouldn't be getting SMS either. If you have unique data plan / coverage issue requirements you should edit those into the question. – pkamb Nov 23 '19 at 7:41
  • I've asked the question to which I'm interested in an answer. "When does Messages message via iMessage vs. SMS?" I've explained why I want to know the answer to that question. It has to do with the recipient receiving the message in a timely fashion if they are not connected to the internet. "Most people are always connected to the internet" is not an answer; it's a non sequitur. – uhoh Nov 23 '19 at 7:59
  • @pkamb In most cases where they don't receive iMessages they wouldn't be getting SMS either. No, if I have turned off Mobile data, I can happily receive sms. – Andra Nov 23 '19 at 17:24

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