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I still remember when iMessage first launched with iOS 5 in 2011 and OS X Mountain Lion in 2012. In my office, we had (and still have) terrible cell service. Since iMessage worked on Wi-Fi, I could finally send and receive “text messages” with ease. I don’t think we’ve given Apple enough credit for creating such a popular service across their ecosystem. By 2016, Apple announced that 200,000 messages were being sent every second. iMessage, despite its faults, is an excellent service. It provides fast communication to other iOS users and syncs across all of your devices. Over time, I’ve ended up in more group texts than I would have ever imagined. These aren’t just friends who are sending GIFs back and forth. These group messages are various subgroups at my office, where people are communicating about work. The problem with this situation is that iMessage was not built for internal business communications, but Apple could evolve its features to help with this use case in the future. 

About Apple @ Work: Bradley Chambers has been managing an enterprise IT network since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing firewalls, switches, a mobile device management system, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, 100s of Macs, and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple IT managers deploy Apple devices, build networks to support them, train users, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for IT departments.

Starring messages

One challenge I often have when using iMessage at work is that if something is actionable, I have no one to remind me to do it later. There is no mark as unread option. There is no way to send it to Reminders or another to-do app. I have to manually copy and paste the message into the Reminders app for me to remember it. This situation can especially be challenging if I see the message when I am in a meeting, at lunch, or even at home. If someone sends me an iMessage at 5:30 PM, by the time I am back in my office the next day, there is almost a zero percent chance that I’ll remember to address it. On the flip side, I don’t want to have to take the time to move an iMessage into my task app every time I get an after hours message. If I could star the message (not the thread or person), it could remain at the top until I remove it. An even better option would be that all starred messages show up as Reminders in my inbox.

Marking users as work contacts

Because iMessage has evolved into a business tool, it’s made it difficult to separate these conversations from personal ones. Ideally, I’d like to see Apple let me mark contacts as business associates so I can separate these conversations. We’ve already seen Apple add an unknown tab to for messages from numbers you don’t have saved, so they could add a personal and work column as well. When I am at work, I could keep the work tab open and avoid the personal one. On the flip side, if I am using iMessage on my iPhone at home, I’d love to keep the work tab hidden.

Do Not Disturb schedule with auto-responses for work contacts

By getting my contacts separated into work and personal connections, iMessage could then evolve to help you manage notifications when it’s less convenient. Right now, someone sending you an iMessage has no idea if you are on vacation, at your desk, at lunch, in a meeting, on a sales call, etc. Apple has already built DND while driving, so I’d love to be able to enable this for when I am not available. Let’s say that I take the day off work. A lot of my coworkers might not realize this I am not in the building. If I am at a movie with my family, I could set a DND with an auto-response to let my coworkers know that I am on a personal day and to email me instead. This feature would be great for vacations so I could enable it like I would an out of office reply on my email.

An option to hide muted threads

Have you ever been added to a large group that you want no part of, but you’d feel bad leaving it? Being able to hide a group thread would move it to a hidden tab so that you wouldn’t see it again. Even if the group thread were super high volume, you’d never see it. The current method of muting it will bring it to the top of the list as new messages arrive. My idea is to let you hide it entirely.

@Reply shout outs in group threads

Among group threads in coworkers, it can be hard to track what’s going on if you aren’t checking on it. I’d like to see Apple build in an @ reply system where I can be notified if my name is mentioned in the thread using the @ symbol. This feature should work similarly to how Outlook has implemented it.

Wrap-up on evolving iMessage for business

iMessage is an excellent service, but it’s poorly suited to be a group communication system for businesses. I’d love to see Apple evolve its features for business customers, but it’s important to remember that in environments where you need to log communications for legal reasons, you will need to avoid iMessage due to its end to end encryption.

If I were to pick only one of these features, I’d have to go with the Do Not Disturb schedule with auto-responses for work contacts. It would be great when on vacation to let coworkers know when they text you that you are unavailable so they won’t expect a response. Do you have any thoughts on iMessage in the workplace? I’d love to hear more in the comments? Is your organization using email more heavily or a tool like Slack?

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