Google went public this week with its frustration over one of Apple’s strongest ecosystem lock-in strategies: the blue and green bubbles in its iMessage service. To be clear, this isn’t about getting Apple Messages on Android. It’s about making Apple Messages work with open standards and interoperate fully with the rest of the world.
In other words, it’s a great idea. One that Apple will never agree to.
“iMessage should not benefit from bullying,” the Android team tweeted a few days ago, kicking off Google’s public awareness campaign against Apple. “Texting should bring us together, and the solution exists. Let’s fix this as one industry.”
“Apple’s iMessage lock-in is a documented strategy,” Google senior vice president Hiroshi Lockheimer wrote in a follow-up tweet that links to a recent Wall Street Journal article about Apple’s iMessage lock-in strategy. “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. The standards exist today to fix this.”
The solution and standard that Google refers to is the Rich Communication Services (RCS), a communications protocol that can replace SMS while providing the unique features of Apple iMessage to everyone. All Apple needs to do, Google argues, is make its in-house Messages apps compatible with not just iMessage, but with RCS as well. And it really is that simple.
For those unfamiliar with the green bubble/blue bubble thing, Apple’s Messages app differentiates iMessage-based messages from a user’s contacts by coloring them with blue conversation bubbles. Meanwhile, the unwashed masses on Android using inferior SMS are given green bubbles to highlight their inferiority.
And it’s real. When I switched to the iPhone recently, I was immediately congratulated for making the switch by three iPhone-using people—my son, my daughter, and a neighbor—because they immediately noticed the change in their Messages apps.
From Apple’s standpoint, there’s little incentive to adopt a standard when its own in-house technology works exactly as it wants, labeling non-Apple users as inferior. And iMessage lock-in actually came up recently in the Epic v. Apple legal battle, where documentation showed that Apple was dividing the world purposefully and saw no incentive in bringing iMessage to Android.
But Google says that misses the point. The green bubble/blue bubble thing harms Apple’s users too. After all, Apple constantly markets its belief that “privacy is a human right,” and many have argued that privacy means that it should bring encrypted messaging—one feature of both iMessage and RCS—to everyone, not just those rich enough to own an iPhone.
“We’re not asking Apple to make iMessage available on Android,” Google’s Lockheimer also tweeted. “We’re asking Apple to support the industry standard for modern messaging (RCS) in iMessage, just as they support the older SMS / MMS standards.”
Yes, Google has done a terrible job with messaging in Android, with a long list of clients coming and going over the years. Whatever. RCS works, it’s available now, and it should be the standard. On both Android and iOS.