Apple Can End Ostracizing Android Users Without Porting iMessage

But just because it can, doesn’t mean it will

Key Takeaways

  • A Wall Street Journal report said teens are using iMessage to bully Android users into switching to iPhone.
  • Google's SVP for Android used the article to invite Apple to adopt RCS, a Google-promoted messaging standard to resolve the issue.
  • Industry experts see no compelling reason for Apple to take up Google’s offer.
girl excluded on sofa while her friends look at a phone together

Peter Cade / Getty Images

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal called out Apple for using iMessage to put social pressure on users, especially teenagers, to switch to the iPhone. But despite Google's willingness to engage with Apple to resolve the issue, industry experts don't expect to see a change in the state quo anytime soon.

The social stigma alluded to in the WSJ article stems from the fact that iMessage shows texts from Android users inside a green bubble instead of the standard blue one, making them stand out. Sharing the article on Twitter, Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google's Senior VP for Android, first lashed out at what he called Apple's iMessage lock-in strategy before inviting the iPhone-maker to support the industry standard for messaging.

"We're not asking Apple to make iMessage available on Android. We're asking Apple to support the industry standard for modern messaging (RCS) in iMessage, just as they support the older SMS/MMS standards," wrote Lockheimer.

Owner’s Pride

In practice, iMessage uses a proprietary protocol to send messages between iPhones. However, messages from Android phones are delivered over the traditional SMS protocol. This robs these messages of several useful features such as the ability to send high-res multimedia, typing indications, delivery receipts, and more. 

Apple highlights the reduced functionality of such messages by displaying them inside green bubbles. Over the years, iMessage’s act of accentuating messages from Android devices has led to Android users being socially ostracized by their iPhone-wielding peers. 

iMessage text convo with emoji on iOS 15

Apple

Google’s answer to end this green-bubble bullying, as it is called colloquially, is the Rich Communication Services (RCS) standard. 

RCS removes all shortcomings of SMS and significantly enhances a device’s data sharing capability over the standard text. Best of all, it works over Wi-Fi and cellular internet but can also fall back to the no-frills SMS standard if required.

The Standard Argument

Lockheimer used the WSJ article to invite Apple to adopt RCS. "Supporting RCS would improve the experience for both iOS and Android users alike. By not incorporating RCS, Apple is holding back the industry and holding back the user experience for not only Android users but also their own customers."

However, speaking to Lifewire over email, Guillaume Ortscheit, a mobile telecom business executive based in South Africa, said that even though the GSM Association, which represents mobile network operators around the world, has endorsed RCS, it isn’t a standard, strictly speaking. And mobile device makers and SIM/eSIM suppliers aren’t obligated to implement it.

"I suspect it would be their commercial strategy to retain customers and avoid migration to competition that determines their stance."

Furthermore, Ortscheit believes that messaging is a very sensitive topic, as far as security, privacy, and data protection are concerned. 

"Last year's revelations around Pegasus iOS hacks through iMessage [and] Facetime have possibly reinforced Apple's stance in securing and ring fencing [the] iMessage platform, and not opening it to other platforms, especially RCS that is fully supported by Google," he opined.

Bottom Line

However, Dr. Mike Kivi, MEA Advisor at cybersecurity vendor LoginID, told Lifewire in an email that he believes the reasons behind Apple not supporting RCS isn't technical but rather economical. 

"I suspect it would be their commercial strategy to retain customers and avoid migration to competition that determines their stance," said Dr. Kivi.

Three teenage girls are lost in their smartphones while a young man glances at them

In Pictures Ltd. / Corbis / Getty Images

He added that this isn't the first time a vendor has rallied behind its product ignoring the broader industry, citing the example of Nokia, which he said was "notorious for driving or blocking standards development." While the strategy eventually gave way for Nokia, Dr. Kivi said he believes Apple can ride it out due to its brand strength. 

Ortscheit agreed. "I concur with Mike's opinion in the sense that Apple has consistently led the market, and they will continue [to do so] on many topics, putting forward their own technology and services. This was definitely the case with the Adobe Flash vs. HTML5 battle, [and] the eSIM, which was firmly opposed by the mobile networks back in 2005."

Looking at the issue from a different angle, Aron Solomon, chief legal analyst for digital marketing agency Esquire Digital, told Lifewire in an email that he doesn't believe Apple has any compelling reason to move away from the current arrangement.

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