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Fixing combined/merged iMessages from separate contacts in iOS 12

With the release of iOS 12, a few users online have posted about issues where their iMessages get combined or merged between different contacts with different phone numbers. This is not like a group chat, as in my experiences with this issue, sending a message on the rogue text thread would send to either person at random. Incoming messages from either person would go into the same rogue thread with the contact name and phone number changing to the person who last sent me a message. Moreover, I tried to control who messages were sending to by composing a new message and manually typing in the phone number, but that would only bring up the rogue combined thread and send as part of that, so I had no real way to text one of the people at any given moment. This was especially frustrating as the people who I couldn't text were my parents!

To make this even a little more confusing, if I deleted the rogue thread and sent new messages to make new ones, texts would work as normal to each number until I restarted my phone. Then the threads would combine again. This was good in theory; however, it was not a permanent solution that could be relied upon, as I would just have to delete my texts again if my phone restarted and perpetually not have any texting history. In the meantime, though, I did have a group chat in iMessage with myself and them that was still working, but again, sending in that forever is only a workaround.

Luckily, with the help of Aleisha, a senior advisor at Apple Support, I was able to get to the bottom of this issue and fix it without too much data loss, and you can too.

Bug reports

This iMessage issue is not widely reported (perhaps for factors that I will list below), but for the sake of posterity, here are all of the bug reports about this issue that I have been able to find online. Do not be surprised if you see a link to this webpage on each of these links, as I intend to spread this fix as soon as possible.

Why did this happen?

This iMessage issue started happening since iOS 12 attempts to combine threads if emails or phone numbers are on the same Apple ID. (The linked screenshot reads "Your Conversations Streamlined: Messages will be kept in a single conversation when you send or receive from linked iMessage addresses").

Why isn't this issue widespread?

This is speculation, but I believe that as more people have adopted iOS devices since Family Sharing and other features like it were released, people have naturally begun to set up separate Apple IDs for each person who uses Apple products. I have found that, in my personal experiences, most families have separate Apple IDs per person. Just because of this issue alone, people will need to quickly get their own Apple IDs if they are still using a shared one, making cases like this probably even less widespread in the future.

How to fix this

Here are the steps that you need to take to fix this issue. They will be tedious, but you will not lose too much data if you follow these steps exactly. Do note that some of the steps are carried out on the devices that you (the person with the issue) do not own. Those other people (who you are trying to text but cannot) will now be referred to as "recipients" for the rest of these steps, and steps will clearly be marked when recipients or their devices must be involved.

  1. The crux of this issue is that multiple people are sharing the same Apple ID on different devices with different email addresses or phone numbers linked to that Apple ID. Therefore, each individual person must have their own Apple ID. Use this page on Apple's website to create new Apple IDs for each person. (The person whose email is linked to the current shared Apple ID can keep that Apple ID and does not need to perform any of the steps below besides inviting the new Apple IDs to Family Sharing.)
  2. Set up Family Sharing from the main Apple ID to all of the new ones that have just been created. If you follow these steps correctly, you will not run into any issues changing Apple IDs over.
  3. Change all services on each recipient's device that use the old Apple ID to use their newly created one.
  4. On each recipient device, look at all of the other recipients' contacts, and make sure that they do not share any email addresses or phone numbers with the recipient device's owner.
  5. On each recipient device, go to Settings > Contacts > My Info, and make sure that the recipient's own contact is selected.
  6. On your affected phone, delete all text threads that have any recipients that you are having trouble sending to. (Recipients do not need to delete any text threads unless they are also experiencing this same issue on their device.)
  7. Sync your phone with iTunes, and make sure that you make a backup. Verify the latest backup time to make sure it is within the last few minutes.
  8. Restore your device in iTunes by clicking the "Restore iPhone..." button. (The button text may be slightly different if you are restoring an iPod touch or iPad.)
  9. When your device connects to iTunes after the restore is completed, you must set it up as a new device. Do not restore from a backup.
  10. After you have performed the initial iOS setup on your device, go to iTunes and click the "Restore Backup" button. You will now be able to restore your phone as it previously was. (Note that apps will automatically redownload from the internet and music, etc. will have to be synced again via iTunes.)

Once the sync is complete, send new messages to each affected recipient to make a new thread. You should also ask for a response if you can. Once you've sent messages and hopefully gotten a few responses, restart your phone. You should now hopefully still see individual threads for each person indicating that this issue is completely fixed.

Other minor notes

  1. In my case, my parents only had two active devices with one phone number on each device linked to their shared Apple ID. I had previously moved my own devices off of the shared Apple ID a few months prior to this happening. They did not have any issues sending to each other, to me, or to the working group chat. The reason I mention this is because I'm not sure how this issue would present itself if three or more people (with three or more phone numbers over three devices, or even a case where one person owns more than one Apple device) were to share an Apple ID. (Two devices could be worked around on the recipients' end since messages would just go to the other device or phone number and not potentially get confused with any others.) I am reasonably confident, however, that the steps above should be enough to solve this same issue if more than two people are sharing an Apple ID.
  2. I had a brief issue reactivating iMessage and FaceTime with my phone number after I did a clean restore and then restored my settings from my last backup. This was particularly evident as I was trying to send test messages to make sure the issue was fixed, but I was not seeing the numbers as eligible for iMessage (i.e. my phone forced me to send them via SMS). If this happens to you, just turn off iMessage and FaceTime in Settings, restart your phone, and turn them back on. They should then activate with no issues, and you will be able to verify that your device is now fully functional again.

Contact me

If you have other information relating to this issue for the sake of posterity, or if you are experiencing issues with the steps that I've outlined on this page, please let me know. My contact information is available on the homepage.

Page written on 25 September 2018 and last updated on 8 October 2018.