What do Messages app extensions mean for third-party keyboards?

Apple is opening Messages to developers in iOS 10. They will have access to the iOS SDK and the iPhone's camera so they can create a variety of different apps for iMessage.

The extensions act like a keyboard that you access right inside the Messages app from your "app drawer." You'll also be able to download extensions from a new iMessage App Store.

So, what does this mean for third-party keyboards that focus on emojis or GIFs? What about typing-focused third-party keyboard apps, like SwitfKey or Google's GBoard? Just how much the Messages app extensions affect the course of keyboards is yet to be seen, but I've got a few thoughts.

Emoji will get better

Apple is opening the Messages app up to developers, which means they can create any type of extension they want within the supported framework. If your favorite keyboard has emoji cats or video clips, you can share your content right inside Messages without having to switch from one keyboard to another. It will make it much easier for developers to both be seen and have their apps used.

More people will want to try out these extensions: Not just because they're cool, but they avoid the awful and awkward "open the Settings app, add a keyboard, and give permission for every new app" nonsense. And because Messages content can be added to the text field and quickly sent to the recipient with a single tap, your days of tapping to copy, tapping to paste, then sending should soon be a distant memory. Hopefully, extensions will also be more reliable than third-party keyboards, too.

The Messages API will furthermore open up new types of apps — you won't be limited to funny GIFs and cute stickers. Developers can create interactive messages with app-specific data, like invitations to events or the ability to send money through an online payment service. There are even tools for creating messages that can be changed after they've been sent for such fun things as iMessage games.

Typing keyboards get iMessage love, too

If your favorite third-party keyboard has no desire to create an iMessage extension, you'll still be able to use it inside Messages — and all of the Message apps, too. You won't be forced to use the built-in keyboard when you want to send a chat, and whatever third-party keyboard you prefer will still present iMessage's app drawer at the top of the bubble window.

Why would anyone want to use a third-party keyboard when there are iMessage apps to play with?

Well, that's a personal preference, isn't it? Some of us love having the option to swipe-to-type, or want a keyboard we can use with just our right thumb. Others think that third-party keyboards are a "dumpster fire" and think the whole concept should be scrapped.

Apple seems to understand that we all have different feelings when it comes to our keyboard preference. Not only will you be able to find cool stickers, GIFs, payment services, delivery services, and games in the iMessage App Store, but you'll be able to continue to use your favorite third-party keyboard for typing without messing up your chat flow.

TL;DR: What's going on?

In short: Sticker, video, and GIF keyboards will get better because they will use Apple's framework and be available in the Messages app without having to switch around. And your favorite third-party keyboards won't get messed with: You'll still be able to use them just like you always have (glitches, flaws, and all).

What do you think, iMore readers? Will you be abandoning third-party keyboards when iOS 10 arrives, or do you plan to use them in tandem with the new features? Let us know in the comments.

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).

  • Sometimes I feel like the third party keyboard implementation is buggy enough. I hope things are ironed out with third party support with iOS 10.
  • Yes I want to see voice dictation on other keyboards, such as Google's G board, and then I will use that one exclusively. Sent from the iMore App
  • You know what I want? Improved cursor control. iOS is 8 years old and has the worst cursor control/placement of any mobile OS I've ever used. There are plenty of ways to improve cursor control, it's unacceptable how horrible it is. Pick that GD low-hanging fruit Apple!!
  • Sliding along the spacebar would make it so easy.
  • They did fix it - on the newer phones. 3d touch on the keyboard makes cursor control amazing. I'd almost label it the best 3d touch feature they implemented. Now, you need the newer phones to have it, but it's great.
  • It doesn't work at all times, and doesn't work on all keyboards. It needs to somehow be baked into the OS, in my opinion. Start typing, then try 3D touch to move the cursor; it doesn't work until you tap somewhere in the message. Why would that be the case when the cursor is already flashing at the end of the current message?
  • I think its bulls#!t that they implemented the space bar scroll as part of 3D touch. I jailbroke my iphone once and there was an app that allowed me to do it on my iphone 6. I have not used an iphone 6s, but the description of 3D touch is the long press on Android. Also, there are some apps, like Instagram, that implement the "3D touch" and I don't have a phone that has it. All that, when I was really trying to say that Apple could make the cursor functionality available to all phones.
  • I don't want stickers in my keyboard. What I'd like to see is someone make a third party keyboard that makes sense and is context aware. I'd like to see Apple do this actually. Remember, the ENTIRE point of a software based, on-screen keyboard, as introduced by Steve Jobs was that "the keyboard can change when the context changes," (instead of being the same old rows of keys), and here it is ten years later and no one has implemented this basic advice. Not even Apple itself. How about a keyboard that's easier to thumb type on for iPad, that comes up when the device is turned into portrait mode?
    How about a smaller keyboard altogether that doesn't take over the screen for people who don't need all the keys all the time?
    How about making the eyes you hit the most larger than the rest?
    How about a keyboard that works better for coding as opposed to text writing?
    How about a keyboard that works better for writing sentences that *don't* have text-speak in them?
    How about actual access to the auto-correct dictionary?
  • Many of these things have been done. In numeric fields, you get a number pad - making the keys you need bigger. In the address bar you get a key for period right next to the spacebar (holding it offers .com, .net, .edu etc.). In a field for an email address you get the @ key and a period next to spacebar. The idea of resizing keys has been replaced by algorithms that determine what key you most likely wanted based on what else you've typed. Code writing applications do provide extra keys. Several 3rd party keyboards can be resized (Fleksy and Flow keyboard come to mind). I agree there needs to be better thumb typing on iPad and even on the 5.5" iPhones. But the software keyboard has come a long way - even since the iPhone was released.
  • This article seems to miss a very glaring aspect to keyboards... iMessage isn't the only app on iOS. Meaning that you should have been able to answer your own question very quickly. Why would anyone want to use a third-party keyboard when there are iMessage apps to play with? Because they can use that 3rd party keyboard in EVERY app... not just within iMessage... So swipe typing or any other 3rd party keyboard feature like Gif searching can be used in Safari, or Group me, or Maps, or WhatsApp, or Instagram or well... you get the picture. PS. The reason that 3rd party keyboards have so many issue is because Apple designed the implementation and API's that way. All the bugs, loading issues, persistence issues, lag issues, and poor input (compared to their Android counterpart) is all on Apples side of the house. They've instituted some pretty impossible restrictions on top of buggy API's for developers to use for their keyboards and this is 100% their fault. They need to fix it so users can have a good experience and developers can provide that good experience that they wanted to do on day 1. There is no excuse not to fix this system.
  • I just got an iPhone on one of my lines. I don't think 3rd party keyboards are "a dumpster fire", I think some developers are. Swype got my $0.99 simply because they don't need "full access" to the web to work. The others are terrible. Some of the issue is Apple's fault though. They could allow a 3rd party keyboard to type my passwords (LastPass or 1Password), or have access to dictation without web access. But I don't see how people can type on a phone screen that fast one at a time. I find Swype much easier tbh.