Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Blue Bubble Envy Is Real

James Vincent (via Nilay Patel):

Google has accused Apple of benefiting from bullying as part of a deliberate strategy to make Android users into second-class citizens on the iPhone-maker’s iMessage service.

Apple’s messaging service includes a number of iOS-exclusive features, like Memoji, and famously turns texts from Android users green instead of the iOS-native blue. This has turned iMessage into a status symbol among US teens, creating peer pressure for young people to buy iPhones and sometimes leading to the ostracization of Android users. Showing up in a group chat as a green bubble has become, for some, a social faux pas.


Google’s intervention here is not purely altruistic, of course: the company would benefit hugely from Apple making iMessage available on Android. Google has also recently been pushing for the iPhone-maker to support next-generation texting standard RCS, which is intended to replace SMS and has already gathered support from major US carriers.

Nick Heer:

Is it 2019 again? That was the last time we had a spate of stories examining the plight of Android users texting friends with iPhones. There was the Fast Company exposé of teenagers’ “distaste” for green bubbles, that thorough investigation by the New York Post into the problem — featuring interviews with exactly one iPhone user who refused to date Android users, and one Android user who felt slighted — and there was Samsung’s ridiculous comeback attempt.


I have written before about how iMessage is a platform differentiator for Apple, but I do not think it is as bulletproof as either its biggest fans or extreme antitrust detractors believe. More to the point, I do not know anybody who uses just one messaging service.

The story keeps coming back because, social pressures aside, iMessage conversations with mixes of green and blue bubbles continue to not work as well as you’d think they could. Then again, the Messages experience with pure blue bubbles is pretty bad, too.

Bridger Maxwell:

I just want Apple to stop splitting group chats with Android users into a new thread every time someone replies

Francisco Tolmasky:

I’ve been out of the loop on this whole iMessage vs. Google thing… but I am fascinated by the fact that anyone is defending is iMessage. I just can’t believe anyone would ever say a single positive thing about iMessage if they’ve ever had to scroll up in that app.


Update (2022-01-19): John Gruber:

There’s nothing teen-specific about iPhone users being annoyed at Android users in group chats. In fact, such complaints might be far more common among adults, because so many teenagers have iPhones they don’t encounter it as often. Last year I linked to a story from Mirin Fader’s Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP that claims former Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd made the entire team run because one player had an Android phone and messed up the team’s group chat. (For what it’s worth, the player in question claims the story isn’t true. It’s the fact that the story resonated that matters.) Here’s a story from October about pro golfer (and well-known oddball) Bryson DeChambeau messing up the U.S. team’s Ryder Cup group chat because he was the lone Android user.


In fact, these third-party messaging platforms exemplify the gaping hole in the center of the WSJ’s premise: iMessage’s extraordinary popularity in the U.S. is a global outlier. This story created a stir on Twitter over the weekend, and a very common refrain from observers who live outside the U.S. was utter bafflement that iMessage was popular anywhere, because other messaging services are so dominant elsewhere — including with iPhone users. iMessage is obviously only popular where iPhones are popular, but iPhones are popular in countries around the world where iMessage (and SMS) are seldom used.


A much simpler nutshell explanation is that teenagers have a keener sense of cool, and care more about what’s cool, than adults. And the iPhone always has been and remains today cooler than any Android phone. I don’t think that explains the entire situation very well either — it’s quite a bit dismissive of the fact that teenagers actually use the hell out of their phones and thus are perfectly positioned to want iPhones for the entirely practical and rational reason that they’re better, not just cooler — but it sure as shit is closer to the mark than talking about green vs. blue text bubbles.


What, pray tell, should Apple do or have already done differently?

Apple should make iMessage work better with SMS. There are a lot of things that could be made nicer or smoother if they wanted to.

Jason Snell:

When you look at the messaging landscape today, iMessage isn’t a colossus that dominates the world. In fact, I’d say that iMessage’s first decade is more of a failure than a success in terms of worldwide acceptance, user experience, and innovation.


Since Apple made that choice not to support Android, though, it’s probably safe to say that Apple never actually intended for iMessage to compete for instant-message domination over the rest of the world. […] iMessage’s role is to provide a solid, end-to-end encrypted service for the Apple ecosystem that (secondarily) can coexist with SMS messages so that iPhones can exchange messages with people who aren’t in Apple’s ecosystem. It works. It’s better than anything Google has attempted. The problem is, it’s not good enough.


The problem isn’t the failure of users to embrace buying pizza inside iMessage chats and turning sticker apps into the next big thing. The problem is that when it flopped, Apple seemed to react with what I’ll charitably call indifference, though it might be more accurate to call it denial combined with inflexibility. Instead of diagnosing the failure and seeing what was next, Apple did what it often does with its failures, which is to leave them to rust away and then make them quietly disappear.


But in the end, the real reason Apple should support RCS (as a green bubble, or perhaps a new color of bubble) is that it’s a more full-featured protocol that will mean that the experiences of everyone in mixed-platform environments–iPhone and Android users alike–will be better than they are currently.

Update (2022-01-25): John Gruber:

Apple has a tendency to either hit home runs out of the box (iPod, iPhone, AirPods) or come out with a dud and just sweep it under the rug, like iMessage apps and stickers. They even unified Messages on a single code base last year (bringing the iOS app to MacOS 11 via Catalyst — quite successfully) but somehow still haven’t bothered to add iMessage stickers on Mac?

Not so much rolling these days, at least on the software side.

Dan Moren:

Perhaps there’s an opportunity here for some light collaboration. Even if Apple doesn’t choose to implement the RCS standard being pushed by carriers and Google as a replacement for SMS, the company might at least find a way to add some interoperability for the two major mobile platforms in existence. Neither Android nor Apple are going away—they should at least learn to live with each other.

8 Comments RSS · Twitter

I just think it's funny that Google is trying to bully Apple into changing Message.app by claiming Apple is bullying it's customers.

Some of these issues aren't specific to iMessage + SMS groups. I've had persistent problems with iMessage splitting group threads when everyone uses an iPhone (blue bubbles only). I've also had iMessage-only group threads where one person simply doesn't receive the messages.

There’s a lot that can be said about iMessage and its issues. And I certainly believe Apple is holding back potential user benefits in order to increase lock-in (e.g. they could integrate third party messaging systems into the iMessage history like they do with third party voice calling systems and the phone log).

All that said, it’s quite a thing to see Google whine about Apple given how outstandingly inept they’ve been with their messaging strategy. And who they really envy is Facebook’s WhatsApp, but that they won’t admit to.

I've never understood why photos and videos sent from iMessage to Android and vice versa are so horrifically compressed. If even a single person in a group chat has an android, we're all treated to unacceptably low-resolution media. Every other chat software has accomplished basic image/video sending. Why are Android users punished so?

> Google is trying to bully Apple

I know this concept is confusing to many of Apple's customers, but Apple is a corporation, not a human being who is your close personal friend. Comparing Google attacking Apple to actual human beings bullying each other is a super wonky take.

Kevin Schumacher

Plume: Apple is a corporation and can't bully anyone.
Also Plume: Google is attacking Apple.

So your take is that a corporation, through its actions as a whole, cannot bully either another corporation or its users?

1. An entity such as a business, municipality, or organization, that involves more than one person but that has met the legal requirements to operate as a single person, so that it may enter into contracts and engage in transactions under its own identity.
2. Such a body created for purposes of government.
3. A group of people combined into or acting as one body.

Implying that a corporation is acting by itself without the humans who run it taking action is the super wonky take here. Saying "corporation Y is doing X" is a shorthand way of saying that people who operate the business are doing something. For example, Activision allegedly creating a bro culture that was unsafe and hostile to women--do you disagree that a corporation could create such a culture? Does that also somehow mean to you that I am implying Activision is my close personal friend?

A corporation is just a bunch of people, that's it.

It would be nice to be able to send hi-res images to my parents and friends who are on iOS. That said, RCS isn't all roses. Quite often messages get stuck as "Trying to send" for some reason. I think it's when my phone beleives it has WiFI but doesn't.

I also get some messages without their attached media from other friends on android. Like this New Year when a friend sent "Happy new year" and a photo that didn't load. I replied with some happy celebratory emojis.

The next day (when I was back on WiFi) the image loaded and it was of his positive covid test...

In Europe we have to accept Facebook’s T&S to be part of group conversations. I’d happily be a green bubble to avoid installing WhatsApp.

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