With the impending arrival of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, there’s more talk of iPhone users thinking about trying out Android than I’ve seen in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, it won’t turn into much of a tide shift in the end, but the fact remains that Google has a compelling phone launch on its hands and this Apple vs. Google debate – when it comes up – generally devolves into a discussion around software ecosystems, apps, and services that people can or cannot give up or adapt to.
Primary in these discussions always seems to be iMessage: Apples incumbent messaging platform that lets iPhone/iPad/Mac users seamlessly communicate with one another based on internal protocols while falling back to SMS/MMS when someone outside that Apple bubble tries to communicate with them. The conversation really falls apart when we start talking about blue/green bubbles and how your one or two Android-toting friends can ‘ruin’ the group chat with their green bubble SMS/MMS intrusion.
I won’t get into how ridiculous the whole thing is or the idea that any messging platform that only works with one manufacturer’s hardware is a failure in and of itself. Instead, I’ll tip my cap to Apple and say that from a locked-down, walled-garden approach to customer retention, you guys nailed it with iMessage for sure. Actually, let’s get into that just a bit, shall we?
For just a second, imagine a messaging service like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Discord only working on Windows and Chrome OS devices. Sure, Windows and Chrome OS together make up the vast majority of laptop users, but it would be silly to think that any of these services would show up and so daftly ignore the other large user base that exists in macOS. That would be insane, right?
In a nutshell, this is what Apple is willfully doing with iMessage. They have an internal messaging platform that won’t work with any device outside their own hardware (which is fine, I suppose) and have masqueraded it as this all-in-one messaging service for iPhone users. As it barely handles SMS/MMS – the old wireless messaging standard – the idea that this app/service is a legit replacement for cross-platform services feels disingenuous at best. Since there are so many iPhone users in the US, this has created the thought that iMessage is the one and only messaging platform anyone needs when it is only the right tool for iPhone users talking to other iPhone users and really no one else.
Unfortunately, iPhone users generally don’t understand this and even though many of them use Windows computers, they don’t see the inherent disconnect between their messenger of choice and all the other hardware they use on a daily basis. Even worse, this app is used to constantly shame people who choose to use other hardware that isn’t Apple since those devices don’t work with Apple’s internal messaging protocol. When an Android device interacts with iMessage, it is always through the antiquated MMS/SMS protocols and, frankly, it sucks.
A relatively simply solution Apple refuses to adopt
While all of that is already frustrating as Android and iOS aren’t that disparate here in the US as you would think (53% iOS to 46% Android), it becomes far more ridiculous when you look at the numbers worldwide that have Android adoption at 72%. While it may be tempting to think that “everyone has an iPhone these days” here in the States, the numbers just don’t support that at all. Not even close.
While those numbers alone are enough to wonder why Apple doesn’t just make iMessage play nice or release it for Android proper, it becomes beyond ridiculous when you consider that all Apple needs to do is adopt the new standard for mobile messaging: RCS. Carriers have signed on and Google is clearly fully invested so RCS isn’t going anywhere. It is the new standard, but just like USB Type C, Apple is reluctant to just get on board. No one is asking that they upend iMessage or even change things that much. Just add RCS to the mix and move on.
This change would make messaging the other half of the population here in the US and the other 70% of people in the world far simpler and more effective. RCS offers all the modern staples of messaging we expect: read receipts, real-time typing notifications, high-quality photos/videos, and large group support. End-to-end encryption is already working for individual chats and E2EE is on the way for groups as well. All Apple has to do is add support in their app for it and the inclusion of Android users in iMessage chats would go from trash to pretty great.
Google SVP Hiroshi Lockheimer weighed in on this foolishness a few days ago and I love the tenor with which he delivered his slight jab. And he’s absolutely correct: things don’t need to be like this at all. The tech exists to make this work and there are people at Google that would love to help get this all ironed out.
I get it: iMessage is a lock-in sort of feature and Apple doesn’t want to let go of that. No one is saying they need to abandon it or even launch it on Android. We just want the new messaging standard added in so that green bubbles don’t have the same frustrations they currently do.
Will Apple do this? I’d have to think that as more and more Android phones and more carriers adopt the standard, they’ll have to. At least eventually. But I don’t feel confident it will happen soon, and that’s a shame. The tech exists, the standards are there, and the only thing lacking is a will to change. Apple is notorious for holding out as long as possible on these sorts of things, but like they do with the USB-C regulations the EU is enforcing, open standards generally win out in the end and Apple will likely fold and adopt the new standard once there’s sufficient pressure. It would just be nice if they’d skip that whole process and do the right thing, right now.