Google iMessage Reactions Really Aren’t a Big Deal

SMS is dead, baby

Key Takeaways

  • Google will translate iMessage Tapback reactions into emojis.
  • Google users cannot send tapbacks back to iPhone users. 
  • The translations in the current beta are a little odd.
Woman texting.

Tom Werner / Getty Images

After complaining that Apple doesn't support RCS messages on the iPhone, Google has upped its bet and added support for iMessage tapbacks in Google Messages. 

Apple's iMessage app is the only major messaging platform that supports SMS, a quirk that dates back to the original iPhone, which combined SMS and iPhone-to-iPhone messages into the same app. This extra ability has caused problems over the years, most recently with complaints that Apple should stop ostracizing "green-bubble" contacts by excluding them from some features. Now, Google's Messages app will do what Apple won't and translate iMessage tapbacks into emojis. 

"I wish there was the same on the incoming side because if you're in a group chat with part iPhones and part Android phones, you see, like 'Katie liked blah blah blah', and I wished that Apple just parsed those [to turn them back into tapbacks]," said Apple podcaster Casey Liss on the Accidental Tech Podcast.

Google Translates

This feature concerns' tapbacks.' iMessage users can long-press on a message and apply a quick emoji-style reaction. They can heart the message, add a thumbs up or down, and so on. But these only work with iMessage. If an iPhone user is in a conversation with a friend using an Android device (a green bubble friend), then the conversation is conducted via SMS. The Android user will get a text description of the tapback. It might tell you that someone "loved an image," for example.

An example of the Tapback options on an iPhone.


Now, Google translates these text messages into emojis. But like all Google translations, this one loses a little something along the way. Apple's heart tapback is turned into a 😍 emoji. An exclamation mark is turned into 😮 and Haha is translated as 😂 .

"Google's current translation choices can be somewhat strange for certain tapbacks," business communications specialist Joe Taylor told Lifewire via email. "However it should be noted that the iMessage translations feature is still in Beta, and there will likely be tweaks here and there with user feedback. But if certain translations go through to public release, then confusion could arise which could either be funny or awkward." 

Should Apple Integrate SMS Better?

A recent Wall Street Journal article complained about the green bubbles that the Messages app assigns to non-iMessage messages. It claimed that Apple was using this to pressure youngsters into buying iPhones to conform to social pressure. But this is an iMessage difference, not an Android difference. SMS messages from iPhones also turn green.

But should Apple better integrate SMS into its messaging app? First of all, SMS has no support for emojis. It’s text all the way. Second, no other messaging platform other than Apple’s and Google’s Messages apps integrates SMS. Not Signal, not Telegram, not Facebook, or anyone else. 

"iMessage translations feature is still in Beta, and there will likely be tweaks here and there with user feedback."

Another barrier is that SMS is tied to a phone number. That’s ok if you’re on an iPhone and you’re happy with sharing your phone number. But you don’t have a phone number on the Mac and iPad. If you also have an iPhone, it can forward SMS messages to those devices, but otherwise, it’s a phone-only option.

The real problem is that we still use SMS. It’s an old, outdated system that’s unencrypted and tied to a phone number. The only thing it has going for it is universality. Like email, SMS is not tied to a single vendor. It is open to anyone with a phone. Google’s proposed replacement for SMS—called RCS—is just as bad in terms of security and being tied to a phone number. 

Apple is probably right to spend as few resources as possible on supporting SMS and even RCS. But there’s one thing it should fix up ASAP: Tapback. It’s terrible. It has only six options. Why can’t you choose from all the emojis, like you can in messaging apps like Slack? Get on that Apple, please. It’s probably not difficult.

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