Send Balloons with iMessage

Last month I was delighted to receive balloons from a friend via text message. Special effects like this are possible on iPhones with iMessage iOS10. Up to that point I had not received a message with special effects, so it was a lovely surprise when it arrived. This little touch of fun can go a long way in making a person smile on a special day. Are you ready to send balloons with iMessage effects? Here’s how it’s done.

Send Balloons with iMessage

Compose a new iMessage

Open iMessage to compose a new message, and enter text into the text window. The arrow in the text window turns blue after text is entered. Press and hold that arrow to bring up a new screen.

send balloons with iMessage

Select Screen Tab

On the light gray screen there are two tabs: Bubbles and Screen. Tap Screen.

send balloons with iMessage

Tap Arrow

There are five dots along the bottom of the screen. The first dot is for balloons. If you are ready to send a friend balloons, tap the blue arrow and balloon effects will arrive to the recipient once they open your message.

send balloons with iMessage

Swipe Right for More Effects

If you are curious about other effects, swipe right while on the Screen page to see confetti, lasers, fireworks and a shooting star.

send balloons with iMessage

How cool is that? Visit the Apple support pages for a complete set of instructions on iMessage effects.

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Using Technology to Access More Balanced Political News

The third presidential debate was a doozy. It felt like my kids and I were watching reality TV. The disrespectful banter between the candidates at the Al Smith Dinner was even more shocking. How can I cut through inappropriate election discourse in search of facts and information to cast a confident vote on November 8th? Thankfully, I’m finding ways to use technology to access more balanced political news. Let’s review how.

Aggregate a spectrum of news from websites, apps, podcasts and Twitter

From MSNBC and Fox News to CNN, CSPAN, NPR and Politico, there is no shortage of news to digest. Tap into the sources, and make your own decisions about which organizations are the most biased.

It’s pretty darn interesting, for example, to line them all up on a Twitter list to see who is saying what. I enjoyed reading my politics Twitter feed during a live event because I could see how each network emphasized or bypassed main points.

Meanwhile, apps like CNN Politics do a decent job of summarizing key insights while offering a scrolling view of the latest headline news.

CNN Politics
CNN Politics
Price: Free

Still in doubt about which political statements are true? Fact check on, and make it a fun family game by doing challenges on their app, Settle It!

Do you have a long drive or commute ahead of you? Try podcasts, like NPR Politics, to hear what they have to say.

Developer: NPR
Price: Free

Use On Demand or online video to watch election debates and speeches (if you didn’t catch them live)

Live network television is not the only option for watching election debates and speeches. My cable company offers replay services like On Demand, and sites like YouTube have videos of past events for easy access. Curious to watch the infamous 3rd debate? Here it is on CSPAN’s YouTube Channel.

By watching this debate directly, I can draw my own conclusion about who won versus distilling opinions from spin doctors.

Visit campaign websites and social media channels directly

Since the third debate, I’ve been interested in the follow up speeches to observe how each candidate chooses to recover. By going to their websites and Facebook pages directly, I can access their campaign schedule and key comments to voters. What messages are they emphasizing? What messages are they deflecting? Comparing each candidate page by page gives me a sense of their respective characters.

Developer: Facebook, Inc.
Price: Free

Join a few mailing lists during the election season

Email is a handy way to stay in the loop even when life gets busy. While doing research for this article, I came across the Atlantic’s Politics and Policy daily newsletter and subscribed. Now at least I can receive some highlights of the day in my inbox and pursue the issues that seem interesting.

Curious about the polls?

The race is on! Check out the latest poll results on a number of sites. I found the layout on the NYTimes website to be informative because it’s broken down nationally and by state.

Interact with the issues

Ready to engage more directly? is a civic engagement platform that operates at community, state and national levels. I especially enjoyed taking one of their polls to think more deeply about certain political issues.

What are your thoughts on the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign? What news sources do you use most? Please share your thoughts or tips in comments, and good luck on November 8th!

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit Flickr Creative Commons

How to Find Stickers in iMessage

I’ve been downloading sticker apps in iMessage to research my recent post on Halloween apps for kids. Sticker apps seem popular, probably because texting (or messaging) is such a popular form of communication. But after downloading the apps, I was a little stumped on how to find stickers in iMessage.

I wrote this tutorial as a guide to help newcomers, like myself, find stickers in iMessage for iOS10 from apps they downloaded.

Open iMessage

Open the iMessage app, which is the green and white texting bubble on the iPhone. Enter the contact for the message in the To: field. Then, select the App Store icon (circled in red) next to the message entry field. If you don’t see the App Store icon, click the arrow to open it up.

stickers in iMessage

Select App Store

Selecting the App Store icon in iMessage will display more options. Click the 4-box icon in the bottom left of your screen (circled in red). This will open a tabbed view of the iMessage App Store.

stickers in iMessage

Manage App Store

Opening the iMessage App Store will default to a Featured tab view. Override this view by selecting Manage in the top right (circled in red).

stickers in iMessage

Adjust iMessage App Store Settings

In the Manage view, you can select whether to automatically add apps into iMessage once downloaded, and hand select apps to show up in iMessage. I decided to nix Apple music and images because I found them to be distracting. Then I selected, app by app, each app I purchased for iMessage.

stickers in iMessage

Send Stickers in iMessage

Now for the fun part. Go back to composing your message and scroll through the dots in the center-bottom of the screen to see your apps. From there, you can select which stickers to send in your next iMessage. I choose a jack-o-lantern 🎃 from Jack-o-moji, because that’s just the kind of gal I am.

stickers in iMessage

Peel and Stick

In addition to texting a sticker, they can be attached on top of photos too. First, text a photo to the recipient. Then, press and hold the sticker you want to attach to the photo. While holding, drag it over the photo and let go. This will attach the sticker to the photo. If you want to rotate the sticker, move a free finger around the sticker before letting go.

Did this help? Do you have any other tips or suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Feature Image: Flickr Creative Commons

How to Type Emojis from a MacBook Air

Have you ever wondered how to access an emoji keyboard from a computer? I use a MacBook Air to do my work, and wanted to figure out how to add emojis to marketing text without having to type on a mobile device. Searching Google for emojis macbook air unveiled a very cool solution.

Three simple keystrokes

The answer is simple and involves three simple keystrokes from a MacBook keyboard: control + command + spacebar.

emojis macbook air

Or, add an emoji keyboard to the menu bar

Another option for accessing emojis from a MacBook Air is to add them to your menu bar.

Go to System Preferences (i.e., the gear app on a MacBook Air), select Keyboard, and check “Show Keyboard, Emoji, and Symbol Viewers in menu bar”.

emojis macbook air

Once checked, a square icon pops up on the MacBook Air’s top menu bar. Clicking the icon prompts a symbol and emoji character keyboard organized by topic. Pretty neat, huh? 😀 (<== I typed this emoji from the emoji keyboard, for example.)

Good luck with your new typing tricks. If you have more to share, please let me know in comments! Meanwhile, here is a tip tweet to share with friends:


Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Feature image source: Wikimedia Commons

Post the Perfect Tweet with WordPress Yoast SEO

Twitter’s newsfeed has evolved into a media-rich environment that seems to function way beyond traditional 140 character limits. I started noticing this when certain tweets generated a graphic attachment, and other tweets did not. What’s the magic behind making these images appear in order to post the perfect tweet?

The answer is found with Twitter cards, which are auto-generated visual aids associated to specific links for a blog post or web site. This article (Twitter Cards 101) explains how to set them up for a WordPress site. There are several different types of Twitter cards, but the one I wanted to implement is called a Summary card. These cards are ideal for blog posts because they feature a thumbnail image and title for every link.

Here are two examples of tweets. Can you tell which one has a Twitter card?

perfect tweet

perfect tweetAs you can see, the link in the first tweet did not generate a Twitter card. However, the link in the second tweet generated a Summary card, which swallowed the long, ugly, blog post URL into a nicely formatted graphic window.

The Twitter card found meta data for the post, pulled up the feature image, added the blog post title and description, and formatted it into a clickable window attached to my tweet.

This is how I activated Twitter Cards for my WordPress blog:

I spent a few hours researching Twitter cards. Hopefully these steps will save you that time.

  1. Login to WordPress admin dashboard
  2. Install Yoast SEO
  3. Set feature images on blog posts
  4. Go to SEO > social
  5. Click Accounts and enter the Twitter username for the blog
  6. Click the Twitter tab, and toggle Twitter Card meta data to Enabled
  7. Save changes
  8. Preview blog post links in Twitter Card Validator
  9. See your Twitter Card pop up!

perfect tweet

This is how I activated Twitter Cards for my WordPress home page:

  1. Login to WordPress admin dashboard
  2. Go to SEO > Social
  3. Click the Facebook tab and enable Open Graph meta data
  4. Upload an image for Frontpage settings

perfect tweet

I’m still learning about the exact input fields for description text and where it shows up across social media platforms. If you have experience setting up Twitter cards for blogs and websites, I’d be thrilled if you left a comment to elaborate on best practices for helping people along. Thanks!

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit: Flickr

How Library Tech Helps Boost Summer Reading

Welcome to long summer days and relaxing summer nights. Kids are decompressing from the school year and easing into a new, low key routine. Summer reading is a fulfilling and mellow pastime for the whole family, and having plenty of books around is key to keeping it going. I’d love to share how we use technology to boost our access to new (and free!) reading materials all summer long.

Increase Book Selections with Summer Reading Lists

At the beginning of summer I print out reading lists for each daughter. My favorite grade-level lists are provided by the Houston Area Independent Schools Library Network (HAISLN). I like these lists because they are accessible online, and contain at least a paragraph to describe each book. The descriptions are important for helping kids preview and select books of choice.

Local libraries may also have their own reading lists. For example, the teen section for Redwood City Library provides reading recommendations for each area high school, which are all available online.

Find Incentives with Summer Reading Challenges

Search “summer reading challenge” in your web browser to find national challenges (like the one hosted by Scholastic) or regional challenges from libraries. For older readers, the GoodReads social network has an annual reading goal program that can be used during the summer months. With a quick search we found the summer reading challenge for our local library, and I’ll bet yours has one too!

Access Books Freely and Easily with the Library Hold System

Physically taking a book list to the library and trying to find all of the books by hand can take a lot of time. Sometimes, your branch may not have the book or it may be checked out. To streamline, we use our library’s online catalog to place a hold on each title. This way, we receive notifications once the books arrive to the hold shelf. Using the hold system is an awesome way to stock up on a bunch of recommended books, for free!

Would you rather access the library catalog on mobile? That should be easy enough. Just check if your local library has an app, or add the library’s webpage to your home screen.

Once our summer reading is underway, visiting the library (and the treasures waiting on the hold shelf) becomes a real treat. If you are motivated to keep kids current on keyboarding or digital literacy skills, have them log books onto a Google Doc. Let them build a table with title, author, and date completed. Before long, the book list will grow, and peaceful readers will fill the home.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Spirit-Fire]

Unicode 9.0 and New Emoji Candidates

I discovered after doing some research on emoji history, and became fascinated with the resources listed on their website. is the online home of the Unicode Consortium, the group who maintains universal standards for computer encoding. Their work ensures computers around the world process and interpret text in a standard way. 💻

Why is the Unicode Consortium becoming so popular?

The Unicode Consortium is reaching celebrity status because image-based emoji characters (which are part of Unicode) are highly popular forms of text communication. They are used in text messages, emails, and throughout social media. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary named an emoji as “Word of the Year” in 2015. 😂

Whether or not you’re an emoji fan, their use and prevalence are indisputable. Personally, I think emoji are fun and creative. They spark bright conversations over text messaging with images to humanize the tone. 💡

Which emoji candidates are coming next?

I was curious about the list of emoji candidates on the Unicode website. So many cultural implications exist on this very page. For example, gender equality issues are represented with the addition of a prince, dancing man, and Mother Christmas (to match the existing princess, dancing woman 💃, and Santa Claus). Endangered species are portrayed with the inclusion of animals like the gorilla and rhino. Even healthy eating gets a boost with a superfood (avocado!) being added to the list.

emoji candidatesWhat a fascinating and potentially stressful job it would be to decide the next emoji. Did you know that anyone can make a proposal for a new emoji? The submission process is explained in detail on the Unicode website ==>

Which emoji is used the most?

Curious about which characters are used the most? links to a site called, which displays the world’s most tweeted emoji characters in real-time. Looks like the crying happy face is still holding first place.

Stay tuned. From what the Unicode Consortium says, final decisions on candidates for Unicode 9.0 will be made in June 2016. At that point we shall see if Mrs. Claus makes the cut. 🎅

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit [Flickr: Marc Di Luzio]

Using the iPhone as a Wi-Fi Hotspot

There are times when I need to access the internet from my computer while traveling, and public Wi-Fi is either not available or a known security risk. I was in this situation last year in an airport, and recalled how some friends had previously used the iPhone for tethering. Tethering is a term for using a smartphone to connect a computer to the internet. I figured this process must have gotten easier and more automated in the past few years, and Googled iPhone for wifi hotspot to figure it out.

Sure enough, my iPhone 6 (using AT&T as the carrier) had an option in Settings to use the phone as a Personal Hotspot. I was able to open Settings, click Personal Hotspot, and connect my computer to Wi-Fi with a password.

Settings > Select Personal Hotspot

Select personal hotspot

Turn hotspot on > retrieve Wi-Fi password

Wi-Fi password

Once you have a password, go to the Wi-Fi icon on your computer and search for your iPhone’s network. If your iPhone doesn’t show up as an available network, consider restarting the computer. Select your iPhone’s network, enter the password, and now you’re connected!

Curious about extra charges, I called AT&T to inquire about usage rates for the hotspot. As long as I stay within my contract’s data limit, the service representative assured me there would be no extra charge. Having used the service several times in the past year, she was correct that I did not incur extra charges. However, it’s possible the arrangement is different for every carrier.

Did you know about this feature on your smartphone? I’d like to hear how it works for you, too.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Yahoo]

Post Image:


Understanding Post Notifications On Instagram

Today was interesting. There was some buzz on the internet about Instagram’s post notification feature. Then, my family asked whether they should “turn post notifications on” so their followers would continue to see Instagram posts. If you are an Instagram user, does the image below look familiar?

Instagram post notificationsI was curious what really happens once Post notifications are turned on. It sounded similar to when Facebook changed their Pages algorithm, and all of the pages had to remind followers to subscribe in order to show up in news feeds.

Would turning on Post notifications merely guarantee an account to show up in a news feed, or would it proactively send a Push alert to a device every time a user posts?

To test, I recruited my family to open Instagram and enable some notifications. For example, open Instagram ⇒ go to Home ⇒ click an account ⇒ tap the 3-dot “…” icon in upper right ⇒  select “Turn On Post Notifications”.

Instagram post notifications

Upon selecting “Turn On Post Notifications”,  this message popped up on my device:

Instagram post notifications

This was a bit confusing to me. It sounds like for Post notifications to work, Push notifications must be enabled at the device level. Do I really want to recieve a text-like alert to my phone every time someone posts to Instagram?

And if I request that my followers “turn on notifications”, am I proactively alerting them every time I upload a photo to my Instagram account?

The situation deserved more testing. It was interesting that I had to delete and reinstall Instagram to enable Push notifications in my iPhone’s Settings (Instagram was not showing up in Settings > Notifications at first). It made me wonder if this was some ploy to get the masses to install Push notifications with the latest version of Instagram. Anyhow, now if I want to turn off the experiment, I could do so with a simple toggle in my iPhone’s Settings.

When I reinstalled the app, it was obvious that Instagram really really really wanted me to turn everything to ON.

Instagram post notifications

We proceeded to post to Instagram. Sure enough, our posts generated alerts right to the Home screen of each iPhone. 

So yes, Instagram’s Post notifications can behave like Push notifications, and may push all the way through to your device, regardless of whether the app is open or not. The end result of what you experience may depend on how Notification alerts are configured in your Settings. 

Notification Settings

My husband, who is not an avid Instagram user, appreciates the Post notification option. He is only following our family, and would like to know when one of us posts. So he will enable Post notifications for each of our accounts, and leave Push notifications ON for Instagram.

On the contrary, I open the app enough to see the activity for myself. To undo the test, I went to my iPhone’s Settings ⇒ Notifications ⇒ Instagram and turned off “Allow Notifications”. I’m hoping this keeps things quiet, for now.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flicker [MoB 68]

When Text Messages Go To Multiple iPhones

As a family with multiple iPhones under the same wireless account and Apple ID, we had to do some testing and troubleshooting while setting up text messages for our latest service. Although each iPhone has its own unique number, we found that the same text messages were showing up on multiple devices. For example, a single text I sent to one daughter transmitted to both of their phones. A quick Google search explained that the redundancy is caused by iMessage.

iMessage is Apple’s form of instant message communication which enables data to be transmitted between Apple devices using Apple’s servers. iMessages can be sent between iPhones, iPods, iPads and Macs. iMessage is associated with an Apple ID, so if there are multiple iPhones sharing an Apple ID, there may be messages to multiple devices transmitted from a single text.

To keep texts associated with a unique phone number, we adjusted our iMessage preferences in the Apple Settings App. By going to Home > Settings > Messages > and then Send and Receive, we selected the unique phone number to receive iMessages for each phone. See screenshots:

iMessage Settings

iMessage Settings

Select phone number to be associated with iMessage

iMessage Options


This arrangement kept the messages channeled to their appropriate recipients, and then all daughters (and moms) were happy!

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Brian DePalo]