Home / Technology / Tech Tip: Weighing Unlimited Text Messages Against Apple’s iMessages

Tech Tip: Weighing Unlimited Text Messages Against Apple’s iMessages

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On an iPhone, standard SMS text messages appear in green bubbes, while notes sent with Apple’s iMessage system appear in blue bubbles. Credit The New York Times

Q. Why use iMessage if one has an unlimited text plan? Related, what is the data usage for iMessage? Our sons get a bazillion messages through group chats and then complain about hitting monthly data limits.

A. Apple’s Messages app and its iMessage service work across its line of iOS devices and its Macs and, in some cases, do not require paying cellular text message fees — like with messages sent between Macs and iPads over a Wi-Fi network. When used with an iPhone, a wireless carrier plan is needed for cellular services and texts can also be sent as standard SMS (Short Message Service) or MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) messages to devices that do not use the iMessage servers.

The iPhone detects which service to use based on the recipient — an iMessage shows text on a blue bubble, while text in a green bubble means the conversation is taking place over SMS. In its online iMessage help guide, Apple’s site does state, “If Wi-Fi is unavailable, iMessages will be sent over cellular data. Carrier cellular data fees might apply.” This means iMessages count as regular data — and not as separate text messages on an unlimited text plan. They may start out as just a few kilobytes in size, but when iMessages are sent over a cellular network, they can slowly reduce the monthly data limit, especially if pictures, videos and audio files are frequently attached.

An unlimited texting plan is better for those who do not use Apple’s software and hardware, do not have readily available Wi-Fi connections or have several loquacious teenage users on the family account. To help save on the monthly data allowance, you can turn off Apple’s iMessage feature by opening the iPhone’s Settings icon, tapping Messages and flipping the switch next to iMessage.

For those with unlimited monthly data (like those still hanging on to the legacy AT&T plans available with the iPhone that first arrived about nine years ago), keeping iMessage active and choosing a limited text-message plan could turn out to be cheaper. The iMessage service can also be cost-effective when the bulk of the messages are sent among people connected to Wi-Fi networks and who are all using some sort of Apple device. Other apps that use data for sending messages include WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which are popular cross-platform alternatives to iMessage.

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