Emails, iMessages, and Texts: what’s the difference?

A new email, ready for an address.

That moment when you unlock your iPhone to send somebody a message, finger poised over an app — but then you wonder — I want to send an email, which app does that again? Wonder no longer. Here’s a simple breakdown of the communication apps that come with your iPhone, and what each does, and the different ways you can address a message in each.

I’ll cover Mail first since it is the simplest. If you want to send an email, Mail is the only place to do it. Once you launch the app and create a new message with the pen-and-paper icon, a blank email will appear ready to be addressed. To send an email to somebody, you must have their email address (such as This may sound obvious, but the reason I make the distinction will become more clear once you read about Messages, below.


A new text or iMessage.

The other important app is Messages. Unlike Mail, this app performs two functions which are quite similar — it’s capable of both texting and iMessaging, but cannot send emails. Both texts and iMessages accomplish the same basic purpose of sending a short, quick message to someone. The distinctions are as follows:

  • Texting can only be done on an iPhone (not on a Mac, iPad, or iPod) and is charged to your cellular plan. Text messages show up as green bubbles when you send them, and can be sent to people who don’t have Apple devices.
  • iMessages, on the other hand, are sent over cell data or Wi-Fi from your iPhone, Mac, or iPad to somebody else’s Apple device. iMessages turn into blue bubbles when you send them. Note that Apple doesn’t charge you for sending iMessages, and while iMessages are usually quite small (unless you’re sending a photo) and therefore shouldn’t often push you over your cell data limit, they still do count toward your monthly data limit.

To text somebody, you need to know their cell phone number, which you can type into a new message as shown. Notice that both the Send button (the green arrow) and the phone number are green, which means that this message will be sent as a text.

But if you’re sending a message to someone who has an Apple device, the text will be sent as an iMessage. The handy part is that whether you have their phone number, or email address, or both — it doesn’t matter. Address the message to either, and it’ll get where it’s going regardless. Your iPhone handles this automatically. If you enter an email address or a phone number that belongs to somebody’s Apple device, a message sent to either of those contact details will automatically go as an iMessage, not a text. The point is that you don’t have to think about it, and it just happens.

This message will go as a text; note the green phone number and Send button.

This message will be sent as an iMessage, since whoever has this email address happens to have an iPhone or other Apple device. Note the blue email address and Send button, which denotes this as an iMessage.

This message will also be sent as an iMessage since whoever has this phone number happens to have an iPhone or other Apple device.














So what I’m saying is that while you may address a “text message” to an email address, it will send as an iMessage, and this is more similar to a text than to an email.

Long story short: texts (encompassing both texts and iMessages) are sent from the Messages app, and emails are sent from the Mail app.