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Get More From the iPhone’s Text Widget

[This article is based on a section of Ted’s ebook, “Take Control of Your iPhone.” Ted tweaked some parts to bring it fully up-to-date for TidBITS, and we reorganized it somewhat to make it fit better in the TidBITS format. And remember, through 29-Apr-08, the ebook is 50 percent off. -Tonya]

You can use the iPhone’s Text widget to send and receive text messages, also called SMS messages, the same messaging capability available via most mobile phones. The iPhone, however, makes text messaging much more convenient, because the Text widget displays the back and forth of a conversation, much the way an instant-messaging application like iChat works on a Mac. This means you see all the previous messages in an exchange, not just the most recently entered one. Text also saves your conversations, so you can return to one at a later point, review it, or even resume it where you left off.

Starting in iPhone 1.1.3, you can send a single message to multiple recipients. To do so, in the Text widget, click the + button that appears in the To field and select your list of recipients from your Contacts list. Alternatively, you can enter additional recipients manually, tapping Return after each one.

For more on Text’s basic features, see Apple’s Knowledge Base article “iPhone: Using Text Messages (SMS).” Otherwise, keep reading in this article to learn my favorite bits of problem-solving advice for the Text widget.

Avoid Paying Extra for Text Messages — The 2-year contract with AT&T has a default limit of 200 messages per month, with 5 cents for each additional message. For $10 a month more, the limit increases to 1,500 messages. For $20 a month more, there is no limit; all messages are free.

Unless you agreed to the unlimited option, you may want to track how many messages you have used in your current billing cycle – so as to avoid going over your limit. To do so, go to the AT&T Web site and log in to your account. Select the Voice and Data Usage tab. From the page that appears, scroll down and select “View Details” for Data Usage. From here, choose Text/IM Messaging from the “Filter by” pop-up menu. A list of all your current messages appears.

If you are at your limit for the month and want to avoid the per-message fees, there are free alternatives:

  • Via Safari, use a free text messaging service such as those offered at,, and
  • Use a service, such as TeleFlip, that converts email messages into text messages. You send an email message, via the Mail application, but your addressee receives it through TeleFlip as a text message on a phone.

These methods don’t offer the convenience features of the Text widget, and recipients may not be able to reply to your message, but you can send messages at no cost. You continue to be charged for any text messages that you receive.

Can’t Exchange Messages — If you can’t exchange messages with anyone, chances are good that you’ve turned on Airplane mode, which disables Text and Phone. If Airplane Mode is on, you’ll see an icon of a plane at the upper left of the iPhone’s status bar; to toggle the setting, from the Home screen, open the Settings widget and look for the Airplane Mode option at the top of the Settings screen.

If the problem occurs with only some people, note that Text depends on the AT&T service (in the United States) to send and receive messages, so if you attempt to send a message to a person in your Contacts list for whom you have no phone number, it won’t work. Also, check that the phone number in your Contacts list includes an area code. You need an area code for Text to work, even if you don’t need the code to call the person on the phone.

Deleting Messages — Starting with iPhone 1.1.3, the storage limit for SMS messages was increased from 1,000 to 75,000. This means you should rarely, if ever, see a “mailbox is almost full” message. If you should receive this alert, the solution is to delete messages that you no longer care to save. You can of course delete messages at any time, even if your mailbox is not filling up.

To delete an entire conversation (which can mean deleting several SMS messages at once!), swipe its name in the Text Messages list and then tap the Delete button that appears. Alternatively, you can delete messages by tapping the Edit button in the upper left of this screen and then tap the delete (minus) icon that appears next to each conversation.

Archiving Messages on Your Mac — Third-party utilities, such as Micromat’s free Syphone, can archive iPhone text messages on your computer. This allows you to save and view messages for as long as you wish, while still deleting them from your iPhone. Syphone accesses the text messages from the backup file created when you sync your iPhone.

Handling the Error Message “Your MSG could not be DELIVERED because InvalidPDUContent” — This error typically means either there is a problem with the recipient’s phone number or there is some unusual character in your message that cannot be transmitted successfully. You may also receive this message if you attempt to reply to a text message received from a free service, such as those described earlier in this article.

Messages Received Out of Order — After sending and receiving several messages as part of a conversation, you may notice that the messages are out of order (such as a reply to a question appearing before the question itself). This can happen if both sender and receiver send messages in rapid succession. Otherwise there are two likely fixes:

  • Update to the iPhone 1.1.4 software or later.
  • Go to Settings > General > Date & Time. Turn Set Automatically (if the option is present) to ON.

Can’t Send a Photo — Many mobile phones allow you to send photos via a technology similar to SMS, called MMS (for Multimedia Message Service). The iPhone does not support this as yet. Your alternative option for sending photos is to do so via an email message.

Turning Off Message Text Preview — When you receive a text message, a preview of the message pops up on your iPhone screen. For privacy reasons, you may not want the text of the message to display in this preview. If you have set a Passcode Lock, you can instead choose to have only the name and phone number of the sender displayed in the preview. To do so, go to Settings > General > Passcode Lock and set “Show SMS Preview” to OFF.

Armed with the recommendations in this article, you should now be able to handle the Text widget on your iPhone not only when it works properly, but also when something goes wrong. For lots, and I do mean lots, more advice on getting the most out of an iPhone, see “Take Control of Your iPhone.”

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