iPhone & iPad Settings for optimal messaging
These notes were prepared using an iPhone 13 Pro running iOS 16.1. iPad Messages settings are similar but not identical.
Messages on Apple devices offer unique features from Apple for communicating between your iPhone and other Apple devices using iMessaging - a custom messaging network run by Apple. iMessages are end-to-end encrypted, indicated by your blue bubbles in the text thread, and can handle more attachment types than other messagin services.
Apple's Messages app also has a fall-back to send texts and photos to non-Apple devices, but these messages do not use the Apple network. They use your cell carrier's text messaging service, and are not encrypted. In fact, many cell carriers archive texts on their own servers for law enforcement or their own data uses.
Properly adjusted Settings can optimize compatibility among the various messaging systems currently in use.
- Open Settings and tap the Messages icon on the first screen. We'll go through all the messaging settings in order.
- Allow Messages to access…
- Focus — so messages will work with the Focus settings
- Siri & Search — don’t turn anything off unless Siri suggestions begin to interrupt or bother you.
- Notifications — there's a full screen of controls & customize to make sure you get notifications the way you want them. My main recommendations are that you want Allow Notifications toggled On so you know when a message arrives, and you want Lock Screen Appearance set to Show Previews When Unlocked (default). That way only you can read a message from your lock screen.
- Back to the Messages main settings screen…
- iMessage must be toggled On or your iPhone will like an Android phone, sending all messages as simple text via your call carrier. iMessage must be On to use any of Apple's messaging features.
- Send & Receive: you may have multiple choices here, so be careful.
- You Can Receive: It's best to use the iPhone's own number to receive messages. You can (also, not instead - even on iPad or Mac) enable your Apple ID email address. If you see additional addresses in the Receive section, DO NOT enable them. They won't work with Apple's iMessaging system. Always enable your iPhone's number!
- Start New Conversations From: must be set to your iPhone's number unless your iPhone has no SIM. Messages sent starting from email addresses may fail to use Apple's iMessaging service, which then dumps them onto your cell carrier, which doesn't really know how to deliver "emails" via SMS.
- Share Name and Photo: this determines who can see your personal Apple ID/Contacts photo, and lets you set how your name appears in Messages. This will only affect iMessages (blue bubble contacts).
- Shared with You: this controls whether stuff in Messages auto-populates into your other apps. This might include photos received via Messages appearing in your Photos Library when you haven't actually saved them. I turn these toggles all Off to avoid having stuff I haven't actually saved appear in other apps just because it came via Messages.
- Show Contact Photos: I have this On so that if I have a photo of someone in their Contacts card, that photo appears as a thumbnail next to their Messages thread. If there's no Contacts photo, their initials appear instead if this is On.
- Text Message Forwarding: this lets you choose which of your other Apple ID devices will receive messages sent to your iphone. Turn off any device where you don't want to use Messages. If you have other devices enabled, you can control the Notifications on each device independantly in their own Settings. (Also set enabled devices' Settings to use your iPhone number as their messaging address.)
- Send Read Receipts: let senders know that you opened their message, or Not.
- Send as SMS — tells Apple to automatically default to SMS when Apple’s network to other Apple devices fails for any reason. Note: SMS is used by default when sending to non-Apple IDs/devices, so turning this Off doesn't affect those messages. Having this Off means you will see a dialog if Apple's iMessage doesn't work to another Apple device, but you can still select to send it anyway if you don't care that it's going to use your cell carrier's unencrypted system.
- MMS Messaging toggle: MMS enables SMS texts to allow photo attachments and texts over 160 characters in length. Leave this ON or your non-Apple communications will be extremely limited.
- Group Messaging toggle: allows multiple recipients, even on Android, but you need to have MMS On (previous) or it will default to SMS with severe limitations. Note: all Apple iMessage options may fail if anyone in the group is not using an Apple ID phone#. Group MMS can include photos, but SMS to group won’t include photos and each message will appear to every recipient as a direct individual text without seeing other group members. Group Messaging works best if all addresses in the group are Apple ID iPhone numbers.
- Show Subject Field: not useful unless you know you are sending a text message to an email address; it might populate the Subject line to avoid being filtered as Junk by the carrier. Otherwise, leave it Off.
- Character Count — only useful if you are using old SMS texts, limited to 160 characters, where this can be a useful warning. Not useful with Apple iMessages.
- Blocked Contacts: lists all addresses you’ve blocked, both phone numbers and emails. This list affects Messages, Phone calls, Emails, and Contacts. It can be edited here if you accidentally blocked an address you now want to accept.
- Keep Messages: how long do you want your messages to be saved if you don’t manually delete the thread? If you store messages on iCloud, you could keep Forever without filling your phone because it uses iCloud storage space instead of on-device storage.
- Mentions - Notify Me: if On, you get notifications even from silenced threads when your name is mentioned in a text.
- Filter Unknown Senders: when On, sorts out senders not in your contacts to another tab/screen in the Message threads list. The "Filters" options at the top left of the Threads screen in messages allows you to see Unknown Senders or not. Also, the Filters screen in iOS 16 Messages now reveals Recently Deleted Messages by thread and allows you to recover a thread for a period of time after it was deleted. This is new in iOS 16.*
Note: this does not let you view or recover individual texts from within a deleted thread, just the full thread with all of its recently deleted texts.
- Audio Messages - Expire: when? Audio takes up more room than text or even some photos, so most people will want to limit these.
- Audio - Raise to Listen: On allows you to automatically listen and respond by holding your iPhone up to your ear when you get an audio message.
- Low Quality Image Mode: if On, will reduce image file size (and quality) of photos sent via Messages . You won’t get to control how much it's reduced.
Note: sending a Screenshot of a photo is often significantly faster when your connection is poor. However, a screenshot's size is controlled by the screen resolution of your specific device.
Now let's move in Settings from Messages to your Apple ID. Go to:
Settings > Apple ID (your name, very top) > iCloud > Apps Using iCloud > Show All (right under the 4 default apps)
- Messages: if you want to use iCloud storage for Messages, turn On the Sync This iPhone toggle.
- That is also where you Manage Storage space for Messages on iCloud if it becomes a problem or you want to disable Messages in iCloud.
That's it! You've now prepared your Settings for messaging via the Messages app with Apple's iMessaging network while maintaining basic compatibility with non-Apple systems which use your cell carrier's text messaging for contacts who don't have an iPhone or Apple ID.
* Recovering a Recently Deleted Message thread is also now available in iPadOS 16.1 in the Messages sidebar, and on macOS 13 Ventura in the Messages main pull-down menus under the View menu.