Time Stamps in iOS 7 Messages

With each passing day, my unfinished writeup of thoughts on iOS 7 seems less and less like it’s going to happen. Hopefully in the next week sometime.

Meanwhile, here’s something I discovered in iOS 7 last night: if you pull the speech bubbles in Messages to the left just slightly, the interface reveals time stamps for each individual message. There’s also a subtle but noticeable color change in the blue bubbles, drawing attention away from them towards the new information coming onto the stage. Fantastic.

Messages in iOS 7

When I mentioned this on Twitter, some folks complained that, clever as it is, it’s not very discoverable. Normally, hiding this feature in this way would seem somewhat user-unfriendly. But I think this is an elegant solution to a long-running but minor complaint about this app.

Since its inception, Messages has only selectively displayed time stamps, usually after a long lull between exchanged messages. I admit having wanted to see the time stamps on plenty of occasions, but not so much so that it broke the experience of using the app for me. In fact, I think that Apple made the right call originally: only show time stamps where they add meaningful value; anything more is superfluous. I still regard these time stamps as superfluous; but this new availability is the best of both worlds: the time stamps are there, but they add no visual clutter until the user actively calls for them.

I still take issue with iOS 7’s many glaring imperfections, but I admit that I’m finding it really enjoyable too. Stuff like this, small as it is, counts for a lot.

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27 Comments

  1. “There’s also a subtle but noticeable color change in the blue bubbles, drawing attention away from them towards the new information coming onto the stage.”

    Also true for long conversations in general: the bubbles near the bottom are a darker blue than the ones near the top of the view. It’s dynamic and tied to the screen, not the conversation, so you can swipe through a conversation and see colors change. Subtle.

  2. no way – disagree vehemently with the notion that leaving off timestamps was a “right call” by apple in the first place. if it were, they wouldn’t be rectifying that error now in ios7.

    ever since messaging was possible on cellphones, on pretty much every “dumb” phone & smart phone ever since, timestamps have always been shown for every message, as they should be. they are not a distracting detail, and are ultimately very useful for many reasons – the lack of them on iphones has been rather infuriating on an otherwise excellent mobile operating system.

    in fact, i’d argue that even with ios7′s current implementation it’s still not good enough – i can’t wait til a jailbreak is available for ios7 so that i can “fix” this oversight by apple and install something to properly reinstate a timestamp on EVERY SINGLE message.

  3. frank, timestamps are on every single message in iOS7, just move the bubble slightly to see all timestamps – as shown in the article above.

  4. Only people who don’t use messages a lot could argue this is a good design. I actually filed this as a bug report on radar on the iOS7 beta – I guess they did a partial fix – at least the stamps are available now.

    Every bit of information is important. The timestamp on a message is of particular importance because when I am answering, I have to know whether I got that message a minute ago, or 5 minutes ago, or maybe 30 minutes ago and just missed it.

    How much clutter does a timestamp add? Next to nothing. How important is it to know whether you’re responding right away (e.g. 1 minute) or with a delay (hours). It’s crucial info.

    So this is OK except it should be _way_ more obvious how to get to the timestamps. Pulling from the right makes zero sense. Yes, I know about it now, and I can do it. But 99% of people will never figure this out. Instead they’ll think messages is crap.

  5. i should add – though i can understand some people appreciating the more clutter-free appearance of apple’s decision to only sporadically display timestamps, not everyone agrees with the original trade-off (cleaner look vs. more data displayed) particularly when the missing data is crucial sometimes.

    though it would unfortunately add one more setting to this barebones app, it would’ve made more sense for the time interval between timestamp updates be made configurable by the user (ie – display timestamp if new msg is >X minutes since the last timestamp displayed).

    generally, i think apple’s things-just-work approach is more appealing to the majority of people, but this comes at the cost of configurability. it’s not hard to see why some aspects of android devices can be appealing to many people though – more customizability, more options, etc. (unfortunately, this comes with the cost of less stability, reliability, performance, etc.)

  6. There’s a reason all 3rd party messaging apps have timestamps.

    Whatsapp, Line app, FB messenger, they all have timestamps and read receipts. While I am ambivalent about read receipts – they just create more pressure to respond immediately – the timestamps need to be there.

  7. Sarah Jones:

    “frank, timestamps are on every single message in iOS7, just move the bubble slightly to see all timestamps – as shown in the article above.”

    i understand this, and i very much appreciate this addition – but it’s still not ideal. i find myself having to swipe to the left way too often, when i shouldn’t even have to if timestamps would just simply be displayed with every msg like they should be (like on every other phone in the world)! sometimes oversimplifying and being different just for the sake of it is not the correct decision.

    long before ios7, i actually filed a bug report with apple regarding this omission of timestamps on every msg – they closed out my bug report stating that it was functioning as intended. though apple tends to get very many things right, which is why i use many of their products, they are not perfect and make missteps like anybody else. i bet people most people like messages IN SPITE of the missing timestamps, not because the like the OMISSION of them (of course, there will always be a few people who are the exceptions, like this article’s author). ;)

  8. ugh, can’t edit comments to fix typos – last sentence should have read:

    i bet most people like messages IN SPITE of the missing timestamps, not because they like the OMISSION of them (of course, there will always be a few people who are the exceptions, like this article’s author).

  9. I find the obsession over timestamps amusing. While I agree that timestamps need to be there – I don’t agree that they need to be displayed. I suspect most would agree.

    I carry on a dozen conversations with others throughout the day with iMessages. It doesn’t matter if I see the message 5 minutes or a day after it was sent or when I respond to it. The conversation continues. That is the entire point of this type of communication. I can chose the place and time to digest and respond. And so can those that I ‘message’ with. I don’t fret about the date or time unless we are figuring out where to meet to hit a movie.

  10. I agree that it’s an elegant solution to clutter that is not always necessary. It seems that iOS7 is very much about trimming the training wheels of touch UI design, allowing motion and more subtle visual cues to hint interaction instead of the blatant skeuomorphism from before. I like the little visual effects like the scrunching and spreading of the chat bubbles when scrolling, that hint towards a unified interact-able stream of individual objects.
    That being said, one thing that gets me is the color choice, with the blue instantly drawing your attention to the words you just wrote. When I’m chatting with someone, it’s obvious what I just wrote, because I wrote it. I would much rather the emphasis be on the messages sent to me instead.

  11. Tim writes: “I carry on a dozen conversations with others throughout the day with iMessages. It doesn’t matter if I see the message 5 minutes or a day after it was sent or when I respond to it.”

    Clearly, Tim doesn’t use iMessage in a work environment like we do. We all have Macs, iPad minis, and iPhones. And we often work on our iPad minis instead of our Macs (thanks to all the amazing text editors). In a work environment, timestamps are important.

  12. No question about it, time stamps are essential.

    It should be optional to hide them, not the default behavior.

  13. Now if some one could discover where Apple elegantly put text sizing (larger/smaller) in Safari’s reader function, I would be happier?! ;v)

    I too was lamenting the loss of time stamps in Messages. This solution is nice, but not sure how many months it would have taken me to discover on my own.

  14. Tod:

    “Now if some one could discover where Apple elegantly put text sizing (larger/smaller) in Safari’s reader function, I would be happier?! ;v)”

    the good news is it looks like “Settings=>General=>Text Size” will do what you’re asking for. the bad news is that it’s a system-wide setting and will affect text size in many other apps as well (i actually have mine set on the smallest so that i can see as much content on my screen at once as possible).

  15. Neil, frank, et al who are very pro-timestamps,

    Could you describe several situations/circumstances where it is mission critical that you have timestamps on every chat message you have sent and received? Curious what exactly the use cases are here (in my work, we are all physically located next to each other, so chat isn’t frequently used).

  16. @frank — had apple done things “like on every other phone in the world” we wouldnt be on iOS, we’d be on the same crappy nokia and blackberry OSes that plagued the industry for 15 years.

    im a software developer and my friends use iOS. i dont need timestamps. nor does my senior citizen father….in fact, most people dont. thus the right call was to hide them. if you need them, theyre there.

    who cares how long it would theoretically take you to discover them? learning is ok. do you complain about Facebook’s gestures?

  17. Wouldn’t it have been better if the stamps were on the right side (or both). As it is now the thumb blocks the most important time stamps – ie the latest.

  18. A time stamp, on a time-based communique is NOT superfluous. You get a message from your daughter/son/significant-anyone saying “I am here” or “Where are you” one needs to know when that was sent — for a ton of reasons.

    I frequently get messages that are time sensitive but I’m in a meeting or otherwise occupied and need to know when the message was sent.

    The belief presented here is a conceit of the author’s and not well thought out.

  19. I don’t mind that I have to drag the conversation over a little to see the timestamps — I’m just glad that they all have one now. Before iOS 7, it seemed as though every eleventh and twenty-ninth text got a timestamp. Very annoying.

  20. I prefer the right-hand panel (photo) with time stamps always visible.а However, I would use a smaller font for the time.а

    Also, I would label/display dates with a thin/solid line across the screen for each new day.а

    I would include *all* previous texts in a single string without the need to click “Load earlier messages.”а

    And I would permit the user to copy/paste/email the entire history of messages (between the user and a particular correspondent) so it could be used/saved elsewhere.

  21. I’d like a hybrid of pre-iOS 7 and iOS7. I don’t want a time stamp visible every message when I’m having a relatively continuous conversation with someone via text messaging. It takes up too much screen real estate, but I do like having the timestamp every now and then because it quasi-indicates when a particular thread started. Sometimes it would be nice to left swipe to see additional time stamp info (for conversations that go on for a long time, but each post is within the “no new timestamp displayed” interval).

  22. Totally disagree…the timestamps can be a preference setting On or off. No reason to make it require s wipe to activate per message.

    So far, I have yet to find anything in IOS7 that I like. It looks like it was designed by Fisher Price.

    Check out the new calculator….appalling.

  23. “Best of both worlds”, sure, except for the discoverability issue.

    That’s my biggest gripe across all of iOS, for that matter. The huge advantage of the Mac from day 1, back in 1984, was that you didn’t have to learn any secret incantations in order to use a computer. Everything you needed to know was presented to you.

    iOS seems to turn this on its head. To learn how to do something, you read about it on various blogs, like this one. iOS 7 seems even worse at this than 1-6.

    If there’s one thing I’d change about iOS, it’d be to make features more discoverable, even if it made the visuals slightly less elegant. I much prefer being in control of a pretty nice system, than being frustrated in a lickably elegant system.

  24. I am disappointed that the date at the top of the message is gone. The older versions had an acutal “month date, year” stamp at the top of the message. The new version only says “today”, “yesterday”, “monday”. Personally I NEED the date stamp at the top. Very disappointing.

  25. Good day! How were you able to change your iphone Message Bubble to Color “BLUE”? Mine is Green and it is giving me a hard time to read. Thanks!