Google: Apple shouldn’t ‘benefit from bullying’ over iMessage bubbles


iMessage bullying
Apple could fix the iMessage problem. It just won't.
Image: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

Google is once again calling on Apple to adopt a more open text messaging standard after accusing Cupertino of benefitting from bullying.

It comes after a report highlighted the struggle some teens face when using an Android device, which results in broken group chats and green bubbles — as opposed to blue ones — when texting peers who own an iPhone.

A former iMessage manager explained the reasoning behind the differences in Apple’s defense. But some might (rightly) say the arguments hold no value today, with text messaging in a better place than it was when iMessage landed.

iMessage bubbles cause controversy again

Ever since iMessage debuted way back in 2011, text messages between iPhone users always appear in blue. Those sent from other smartphones — anything not made by Apple — appear in green.

That’s just the way it is. And while the majority of us can ignore it and move on with our lives, it’s not so simple for younger Android users, some of whom have been subjected to bullying and ridicule for not using an iPhone.

A January 8 story from The Wall Street Journal once again highlights the situation. It’s one of many such reports published over the years that attempts to draw attention to the problems created by Apple’s tight grip over iPhone messaging.

“iMessage should not benefit from bullying,” reads a tweet from Google in response to the article. “Texting should bring us together.”

‘Using peer pressure and bullying’

Google also pointed to comments made by Hiroshi Lockheimer, a senior vice president who manages Android among other things. “Using peer pressure and bullying as a way to sell products is disingenuous for a company that has humanity and equity as a core part of its marketing,” Lockheimer said on Twitter.

Justin Santamaria, a former Apple manager who worked on iMessage, replied and attempted to rebuff the attacks. He defended Apple’s decision to make text message bubbles different colors, depending on what type of device sent them.

“Photos that send as a postage stamps. Wondering if your friend got your message. Simple stuff we take for granted today. How should you know to expect a good photo or delivery notification? The blue bubble,” Santamaria said.

Sure, that made sense in 2011, when text messaging still hadn’t caught up with the mammoth rise of smartphones. But those arguments aren’t valid in 2022 — and they haven’t been for years now.

There’s an iMessage everyone can enjoy

Google has been calling for Apple to adopt Rich Communication Services, aka RCS, a modern text-messaging standard that makes the best of iMessage — including high-resolution photos, sent and read receipts, typing indicators and more — available to everyone.

RCS has long been available on Android devices, but Apple seems to have little interest in supporting it on iPhone. The reason? Well, we don’t know. But we can tell you that adopting RCS would go against the company’s iMessage strategy.

And yes, despite what some Apple supporters might say, the company does use iMessage as a way to lock users into its ecosystem. Apple executives acknowledged this — at least internally — on more than one occasion.

iMessage keeps iPhone users on iPhone

Bringing iMessage to Android would “hurt us more than help us,” admitted Apple Fellow Phil Schiller in a 2016 email, unearthed last year during the Epic Games v. Apple trial.

“iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones,” said Apple software chief Craig Federighi. It’s not in Apple’s best interests to eliminate those roadblocks.

Apple could make messaging between iPhone and Android devices better. We have the technology for it — and Google has, more than once, called upon Cupertino to use it. Apple just … won’t.


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