iMessage read receipts: A little bit of heaven... or a lot of hell?

Today's Talk Mobile is all about social etiquette and how technology can affect the way we treat our fellow human beings. Case in point, when Apple introduced iMessage in iOS 5 they took a page from BlackBerry Messenger and offered "read receipts", a way for you to know not only if your instant message was delivered, but if the person it was delivered it to had actually opened the Messages app and seen it. That's a great way to create confidence in a messaging system, but it's also a great way to create expectational debt between the people sending the messages, and surface some anger, frustration, and jealousy.

"I hate that stupid #$^%@ read receipt", a friend of mine told me years ago, "my boss calls me 5 minutes after sending a BBM to ask why I haven't responded yet. 'I know you saw my message! I can see you saw it!', he says to me. 'Why haven't you answered?!'" My friend shook his head. "Because I'm busy #$^%@ working! That's why!"

Personal relationships can be even trickier. What does it mean if someone new you're seeing has read your iMessage but not responded? What do you do when that read receipt just sits there, staring at you, mocking you...? Or when you really need an answer to a question from your parter, and the read receipt tells you've they've seen it, but you get no reply and the seconds, minutes, or even hours tick by?

What happens when a mutual friend, or person of mutual interests, iMessages someone else back while not replying to you? Argh.

Our friends over at don't seem any more at ease with their "dirty R", and they've suffered it longer than anyone.

Luckily, Apple makes the use of read receipts optional - you can turn them on or off in Settings - but that they exist also creates the expectation that we'll use them.

So, what do you think about read receipts? Are yours on? Do you expect other people to have theirs on? And what do you do when you know your message has been read, but no reply has been sent?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.