Why the upcoming iOS 11 should allow to mark text messages as unread

My thoughts on mental models, consistency and context in #product #design and #UX.

Tom Kupka
3 min readJun 27, 2017

Update (January 2023): Apple iOS 16 finally supports that, yay! 🎉

Has the following ever happened to you?

Did you receive a new text message, but for some reason (having no time, taking time to decide, etc.) you could not reply immediately? If this was to happen in an email, you would probably mark it as “unread” to remind you to reply later (making sure you will not forget), right? Unfortunately, this has never been applicable with Messages on iOS 10.

Here is what users would expect in Messages — to have a possibility to mark again a text message as unread…

I took the opportunity of presenting the idea visually (in motion).

Probably you are saying right now something like: “hey, this exists!”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t! It exists only in Mail, but not in Messages (iOS 10.3.2, June 2017).

In my opinion, the experience when interacting with text messages is not consistent with the one of email messages and I wonder: Why was it designed this way?

Let me share my thoughts…

Mental models

I believe that when people are working with text messages, their mental model (beliefs) and expectations are the same as when working with email messages. From an abstract point of view it is just a message — the first one is called “SMS or text message” and the other one “email”.

Mental models are based on what users believe and know (or think they know) about a system.

“Yep. We need a simple mark as unread, just like email. In the meantime, I will use this workaround. Thanks!” — Rimabg

Especially, when the iOS user interface of Messages and Mail are almost identical. No wonder that people could eventually expect the same interactions and behavior — and this brings me to consistency.

Consistent interaction in the same context

When people work in the same context and environment, equivalently looking UI may evoke same expectations. Thus, users base their predictions on their mental model (especially, when no signifier or affordance is present, like in this case).

Consistent interactions with same entity (“a message” in this example) are necessary to communicate the system’s basic nature correctly.

Users need it!

I did a desk research and I found out, that other users are expecting a same behavior to mark text messages unread on iPhone since beginning of time.

“Can u mark a text message as unread on iPhone?” https://discussions.apple.com/message/26751622

“How do I mark a text message as new or unread?” https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2619852


Don’t force people in workarounds

When a user starts inventing workarounds, it gives us a signal which indicates that something is not correct. Especially, if somebody is willing to jailbreak the phone (and ending up losing his warranty), asking a question “is there an app for that?” or just resending the message to himself.

Users inventing workarounds — resending a message to yourself.

Quick comparison of popular messengers

Here is a quick comparison of most popular messaging platforms, demonstrating which support “unread” behavior and which do not. The ones supporting the “unread” do not always share in the same way by doing the interaction (which may depend on each environment and usage context), but at least they offer the functionality.

Built-in “unread” support

  • Facebook Messenger (120.0)
  • LinkedIn (9.1.32)
  • Skype for iPhone (6.35.1)
  • WhatsApp (2.17.22)

Missing “unread” support

  • Apple Messages (iOS 10.3.2)
  • Twitter Messages (6.79.1)
  • Viber (6.9.1)

Note: Verified on iOS versions of the applications listed.



Tom Kupka

Senior Product Designer @ Productboard. My thoughts, stories and ideas on UX and Product Design | tomaskupka.com