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Can You Explain the Difference Between an IMessage and a Text Message?

Once in a while, when I send a message via the Message app, it will say, “Sent as a text message.” What does this mean? What’s the difference? I have friends in Europe who send me Messages from their iPhones. If I reply, does that cost money, or is it just using my data plan because I’m on my home network?

Comments: 8 Responses to “Can You Explain the Difference Between an IMessage and a Text Message?”

    6 years ago

    Text messages, also called SMS messages, are sent through your mobile phone carrier. Depending on your plan, you may pay for each individual message, have a plan that allows you to send X number of messages per month before paying for more, or you may have an unlimited number of messages. In the U.S. you can pay for both outgoing and incoming text messages. So sending a message to someone may cost you 20 cents, and may also cost the receiver 20 cents.
    iMessage is an Internet-based system from Apple. It is free. You can send messages through the Internet and it doesn’t cost you anything extra to send or receive them. Well, you probably pay for bandwidth if you are using a mobile connection (as opposed to wi-fi) but since messages are usually small, it costs a tiny fraction of a fraction of a penny to use that bandwidth.
    If you send someone a message via iMessage, it doesn’t really cost you anything. Same if you get an iMessage. If you send SMS, it costs you something, depending on your mobile plan.
    The Messages app will try to use iMessage to send a free message. But that can fail for a number of reasons: the receiver isn’t using iMessage (not an Apple device, they haven’t signed up, etc). There could also be a problem with your Internet connection. If that is down, but your non-data connection to your mobile phone provider is working. If it fails to send using iMessage, then it may try to send the message as an SMS message instead.
    Another major difference between SMS and iMessage is that SMS works ONLY on mobile carriers. So it works on the iPhone. But it does not work on the iPad, iPod touch, or Macs. These devices can use iMessage, however. So you can use iMessage to text between your iPhone and someone on an iPad or Mac, but you cannot use SMS to do so — at least not without some other service of some sort, like Google Voice or something.

      6 years ago

      So just to clarify, the Messages app on my iPhone uses the iMessage system? (when internet is available)

        6 years ago

        Three things need to be in place:
        1. Connected to the Internet (not just mobile voice/sms). Could be wi-fi, LTE, 4G, 3G, Edge.
        2. You must have set up and and are using iMessage (probably are).
        3. The person you are sending the message to is set up with iMessage (so they have iOS or OS X and have set it up) and you are using the ID (phone number for iPhone or email addresses for everything else) that they set up for iMessage.

          6 years ago

          Thank you. This is very helpful to know.

    John C Stires
    6 years ago

    Blue-colored text balloons seem to determine that your messages were sent/rec’d thru Apple.

    6 years ago

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