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).