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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Wish List: More transparent iMessage contacts

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

That little ‘Recent’ tag is the only way to see which contact method you’re messaging with.

It was somewhere between the video of Elizabeth Warren’s dog stealing a burrito and a tweet about cheese that my wife broke it to me: “Btw, this is my work phone…”


My wife carries two iPhones, her personal one and one issued by her work, and she’s hardly alone in that situation. Naturally, I have both her personal phone and her work phone number in her contact card, and occasionally I have needed to text her on her work phone. But since she’s a government employee, I try to keep those texts to a minimum.

The problem is Apple doesn’t make it easy to distinguish between those cases, especially on iOS. In creating a “seamless” messaging experience, Apple has buried deep the only way to establish which contact method you’re using (which could also be an email address). You have to tap the header in Messages, tap the Info button, tap their name, and then see which phone number or address is listed as “Recent.”

This is a pain. On the Mac, you can usually check by clicking the contact name at the top and seeing which method is selected in the drop down menu, and Messages will generally at least notify you when your conversation has switched contact methods, but iOS lacks these niceties. (This is also why you sometimes end up with multiple conversations with the same person, since they may be initiated via different contact methods.)

Changing the contact method on iOS is just as annoying: you need to open a new message, then make sure to choose the right number or email address from the dropdown menu. Again, on the Mac, you can usually just choose a different contact destination from the drop down menu when you click the contact’s name. (In my case, for some bizarre reason, neither of these cases showed me her personal cell phone number, instead showing only her email addresses and, on iOS, all the other group chats that she was a part of. To fix it on my iPad, I had to go into her contact record and tap Message, then select her personal phone.)

All of this should be easier. I’d love the ability to select a contact number or email as the default iMessage address, and to be alerted if, for some reason, I’ve addressed a message to another address. (The way in Mail, you can configure it to alert you when you’re sending a message outside of a certain domain by highlighting the address in red.)

macOS Messages
On the Mac, Messages will at least tell you when the contact method changes.

It would also be great if Messages on iOS provided the same level of transparency as it does on the Mac, telling me if my wife is now texting me from her work phone because her personal phone is out of battery, for example. This is one place where Apple’s devotion to an “easy” experience makes it too easy to make a mistake.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]

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