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Google and Android are still failing us on messaging and encryption

A new medical clinic has been built in your neighborhood. Just down the street. It's in walking distance.

There's no worry about insurance. There are no co-pays. If you need help, you get help. In fact, you have to work hard to ever see a bill. This new clinic has the best doctors and state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment. It doesn't just diagnose a cold — it cures it on the spot.

It sounds great, but if anyone ever had to actually wait to be seen, if appointments took more than 30 minutes, there would be lines down the block.

There's just one catch. Nobody there wears gloves. Sure, there's not all that much of a chance that they'll spread any sort of contagion — and certainly not on purpose. But gloves get in the way and keep the docs from working the way they want to.

You get get a clinic with gloves just down the street. Its lines are also short, and fees are minimal, and it cures the common cold pretty much just as quickly. ... But no gloves.

The metaphor is admittedly a little stretched, but this is how I'm starting to see Google's lack of a messaging service that includes encryption by default.

What messaging strategy?

Let's rewind a bit. Google's "messaging strategy," insofar as it has one that isn't just rebranding apps every few years, has never included any sort of real attempt at the sort of encryption we should demand in real-time messaging.

Google's messaging strategy is as much a failure of focus as it is technological.

Hangouts chats were encrypted using HTTPS and TLS. But they weren't end-to-end encrypted, meaning Google (and a demanding government) could break in, if it wanted. Allo had end-to-end encryption available in an optional "incognito mode," but things otherwise were left open by default. (And that was by design.)

Today, Hangouts has been shunted off to business use, and Allo is being put out to pasture. Google instead has put its muscle behind RCS "Chat," which essentially is a modern version of the old SMS text messaging system. That in and of itself is a worthy goal. SMS (and MMS) is a legacy mechanism that should have been put down years ago. And if anyone can wrangle carriers for a new standard, it's Google.

RCS is a rich messaging system that allows for smarter (and more fun) messaging. But not every phone will have access to it at first — again, it's up to individual carriers to implement — and so it'll fall back to the legacy SMS system in that case.

But it's not enough. And it doesn't excuse Google from providing an encrypted out-of-box messaging experience for its users across Android and the web at large.

iMessage

Apple's iMessage service does it right — encrypted messaging out of the box — even if its lock-in to Apple-only devices is very much wrong.

iMessage is right even as it's wrong

I'd been loathe to accept Apple's iMessage on principle. Some context here as well: iMessage is a service that works within Apple's "Messages" app. Communications between two iMessage users are end-to-end encrypted. That is, only the people chatting with each other can decrypt the messages. Apple can't read the messages, and it doesn't want to. If you're using the Messages app to chat with someone who's not on iMessage — generally, that'll be someone on Android — it falls back to unencrypted SMS.

Apple's iMessage lock-in is still bad, even as it shows the standard for basic secure communications.

To the Apple user, it's seamless. There's absolutely no thought involved. To borrow the phrase, it just works.

But a modern messaging service must work across multiple platforms. It's the right way to do it, and it's the right thing to do. Apple's gonna Apple, however, and so iMessage continues to be available on hardware that funnels money directly to Apple, and nowhere else. If an iMessage user messages someone on Android, it falls back to good ol' SMS. (Presumably that'll change to RCS at some point, but we don't yet know.)

And then there's the breakage that occurs if you try to get off of iMessage. You will miss important communications that get stuck in an iMessage loop, if the sender didn't delete that thread and start a new one, or if you didn't properly shut off iMessage or deregister your phone number. That's not just poor user experience — it's punitive lock-in, bordering on extortive. "Hey, sorry you missed out on some messages. Guess you should have stuck with us."

But iMessage does the encryption part right. It starts with encryption — prefers it, really — and falls back to insecure SMS if it has to.

RCS is better, but it's not enough

A better standard messaging service is a worthy endeavor. It'll be slow to be adopted worldwide, for sure, but it clearly should be the new baseline for basic communications between phone users. And that RCS is unencrypted shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

But that also underscores the company that sells the most smartphones in the world to provide something better, something safer, by default. Encrypted messages first — and for messages between Android and iPhone, too — with a fallback to RCS and SMS if necessary.

Google's got the capability to do this, I'm sure. Why it's not doing this is a head-scratcher.

If you're not offering a secure, encrypted experience by default, you're doing it wrong.

And that's the conclusion I came to in the past few weeks as I started to move my family from the Facebook-owned WhatsApp to Signal. Only a couple of us in my immediate circle are Android users, and I wanted us to have a secure way to chat with everyone else. On principle.

And then I decided that maybe it shouldn't just be about me. I shouldn't force my family to jump through more hoops just because there's no cross-platform encrypted messaging service from Google. (Though to be clear, still iMessage fails miserably on the "cross-platform part of that equation.)

So I am, for the first time, really switching to the iPhone. Maybe not quite whole-heartedly, maybe not quite willingly. But I also don't have in the back of my head that I'll fire up the Pixel again when all the little annoyances that make up the one big annoyance that is iOS start to drive me crazy. Because I want the people I communicate with most to have secure communications with me. By default.

If Google's not going to give me encrypted messages by default, so be it. And I'll still grumble (loudly) about Apple's iMessage lock-in. If Apple really wants to make messaging more secure, it should do so for everyone. Not just those who buy its hardware. (Hell, charge me for off-iOS iMessage on Android, then. I'll pay it.)

But making my family bounce between additional encrypted messaging apps — or making my friends fall back to insecure SMS — was starting to make me feel like I was forcing them to get an extra flu shot just because I didn't like the proprietary gloves being worn by the docs they'd been seeing. At some point it's not about me.

And at some point Google has to put on the damn gloves.

95 Comments
  • My favorite Android guy switching to iOS??!?!!? Blasphemy! And you're proving Apple is right to stay with iMessage locked in. They just got the Android guy of all Android guys to switch solely because of it. Sad.
  • Phil is saying what sounds like such an American thing to say. I talk to my friends in other countries and SMS/iMessage is not used at all (other than bank alerts, or some message like that). This is from people who have iPhones. They use Telegram, Signal, WhatsApp etc. You get security in most/all of those, and cross-platform to boot. We need a push to 3rd party apps with encryption.
  • Well, to be fair, I am an American. =D
  • Yes completely agree..
    I don't live in the states and don't have any of these problems. I only use 2 messaging apps, WhatsApp just for some groups and some other people a don't really chat with that often but most of them are on telegram.. that is working fine crossplatform and has all the features I want By the way that rcs will be a complete failure over here I can almost guarantee that 100%. For now no operator is supporting it overhere and people will not be that quick to move if that happens (because then all 4 operators have to move first..) Google did missed that boath completely. They should have stick with Google talk and improved on that...
  • I do understand the feeling. I recently decided to give up on encrypted chat for the time being because I was tired of switching people from app to app when they still use others in the background. The alternative would have been to switch to iPhone, but as great as it is, it isn't for me.
  • I don't have anyone I need to hide messages from but to each their own. I guess Phil won't be messaging Android users anymore? Certainly no encryption there through Imessage.
  • Not having anything to hide doesn't mean you don't have a right to privacy.
  • True, but why is privacy so important if you have nothing to hide?
    What is it specifically you don't like?
  • It has nothing to do with hiding anything. There is just nothing I want you to know about me or who I'm messaging.
  • But why exactly?
    I must admit I agree I just don't really know why.
    I don't worry as much if my conversations are over heard.
  • What if something seeming innocuous you say today could be deemed objectionable or illegal in the future and be used against you? Throughout history there are countless examples of people being persecuted for talking to certain people, discussing certain ideas/topics, asking certain questions. And in today's world there is a digital record of it all that lives indefinitely. Read up on the history of McCarthyism in the US for a recent example of this. Part of being free includes a right to privacy. Without it you are never truly free.
  • PC is the new McCarthyism.
  • As I do not say anything in text that I wouldn't say in person I am not that worried about this.
    When they come for me it will be because of what I've said not what I've text.
    But as I've said I want my text to be private. And I strongly support others who do too.
  • That is certainly true, of course. But I don't feel the need to encrypt my messaging in the same way I don't feel the need to speak out loud in code. The remote chance that someone might intercept my texts and read them is not something that I worry about. They will just find out I'm annoyed my son didn't mow the lawn and that I really want Thai food tonight. I can't believe I just posted that in an unencrypted comment section!
  • Yeah, I never understood this "I have nothing to hide" so I'm okay with governments having access to my private communications. As an American, this is an anathema to me. My Chinese colleagues feel differently though. So I guess it's a cultural thing.
  • I don't think anyone is making that argument, though. I've got nothing to hide, I don't particularly care about encryption of my messaging, AND I don't think the government should have access to my private communications without a robust warrant process. When I do have something to hide, like an important password, I make sure it is hard to get. I would not sent that over sms. . Encrypted messaging is better than non-encrypted messaging. But because my content is uninteresting, it is a low priority issue for me. That is what I mean when I talk about "having nothing to hide". When it comes to the issue of government surveillance, I'm more concerned about legal norms and standards than I am about my own personal texts.
  • As some one that lived in a communist country DDR. That I don't have anything to hide, makes me feel a little sick inside.. I guess you don't have curtains or blinds on your windows because you have nothing to hide. Or maybe you have no door locks because you have nothing to hide. The "nothing to hide" argument also has things backwards when it suggests that we are all worthy of suspicion until proven otherwise.  The "nothing to hide" argument mistakenly suggests that privacy is something only criminals desire. In fact, we choose to do many things in private sing in the shower, confide in family and friends even though they are not wrong or illegal. Who would not be embarrassed if all of their most intimate details were exposed? Privacy is a fundamental part of a dignified life. If you think privacy is unimportant for you because you have nothing to hide, you might as well say free speech is unimportant for you because you have nothing useful to say. Ok off my soapbox sorry "nothing to hide" just gets my blood boiling...... Sorry for the rant........
  • You are reading WAY to much into that comment. No one suggested that privacy is only for criminal activities. The question was why encryption of messaging was of such high priority to Phil. For what it is worth, I have blinds on my windows because I don't want people casually watching what I do at night. They would not prevent the government from spying on me though. I have locks on my doors because I don't want my stuff stolen. My text messages are not encrypted, but are probably harder to get at than it is to peak through my blinds. I'd much rather someone was reading my texts than was watching me get dressed or whatever. It is perfectly legitimate to ask why someone is so worried about this issue. That does not imply a belief in criminal activity. If my neighbor was adding more locks to his doors and complete blocking off his windows 24 hours/day, I might ask him about why his priorities are what they are. Why is he more worried about his physical privacy than, say, the condition of his driveway or how loud his dog is.
  • Nope not reading too much into it at all.
    Honestly the main reason why someone would care about or would want encryption in their messaging app for most law abiding people. Is from hackers and the big 800 pound gorilla in the room the government. In my opinion if someone that has to ask why someone would want that in a messaging app for the most part They are more or less in the
    " I have nothing to hide crowd" But I guess I'm overly sensitive on this topic because of me living ij in former East Germany. You had no privacy in most regards from the government.
  • Do, or would you use an un encrypted phone line for a verbal conversation?
    I would without thinking about it the same as I do with SMS.
    If I think about it I use email or WhatsApp.
  • Sounds like someone is making the move to iMore. Are we sure Rene Ritchie didn't write this??
  • Fun thing about my job is I get to play with everything, and write everywhere.
  • It's unfortunate you're switching as a long time Android supporter, but in this case I completely understand. Android fails miserably in some basic functions and it's unacceptable at this point.
  • I'd love Phil to take over Rene's job. Phil is a better writer, and just knows and loves tech. Rene is a living parody of an Apple fan boy. As it is iMore is unbearable to read. Phil advocates for security because he cares about security. Rene advocates for whatever Apple does. If iMessage started openly broadcasting everyone's messages, Rene would be praising Apple for finally doing unsecured messaging RIGHT.
  • Lol, so true
  • Indeed... and call the new feature way ahead of its time.
  • We will get alot come in here and slate him for moving but I got to be honest he makes a good case here especially if your concerned about privacy.
  • It's not as much as privacy as it's convincing others to adopt what you use, when all of them have a secure way to communicate already. If you're the only one that needs to change, it's makes sense to just switch. It's ridiculous to still have this conversation in 2018.
  • It's definitely not in my top priority items that will make me switch platforms. If it's important I'm going to use a third party app that enables end to encryption. Either way doesn't bother me.
  • Third-party is fine. And there are a lot of reasons to go third-party over native. But I think anyone who makes an OS at this point needs to include encrypted messaging.
  • Hmm honestly at this point we may never see that on Android. Anyway, this is just for your daily driver I believe? It's not that you won't use Android phones in future, just may be not as daily driver 😁 In principle, you want end to end encryption in built in messages, for me in principle I don't like supporting apps or systems that are not cross platform. I hate that iMessages is not cross platform, and even when I use my iPhone I never turn on iMessage.
  • Android really, really needs to force a standard im app on all Android devices. Stop all of the nonsense and get serious about messaging already. It's 2018! Enough is enough. And stop naming them stupid names.. Just add im functionality to Android Messages, force it on all Android devices (with the ability to disable for those who don't want it because they like being difficult). I've gotten most people I know to use whatsapp. But there's a few stragglers who refuse because they're iOS or old iOS users and think that sms works good - it doesn't and most didn't even know iMessage was im. I should not have to convince people whatapp is better. Android should have had a default, secure messaging app by now. Years ago actually.. Get with the program and focus Google, you scatter brains.
  • Force it on all Android phones is where this falls apart. Even if you forced it on all Android phones, how can you prevent Samsung or LG from making their messaging app the default. Most people start with the default app and never change.
  • Make it apart of the oem agreements. Like the recently announced security patches. And you're right, that's exactly what they, use the default. That needs to change. We all need to get on the same page. Right now, if you're Verizon to Verizon, AT&T to AT&T, your sms experience is much better, but as soon as you're sms to different carriers, it's goes back to flip phone days. And forget a group thread, it's horrendous compared to im apps.
  • The only reason why I don't think this will happen ever is because Google works with the government lol. I think Signal is our one and only option
  • A good start would be for Google to do this one Pixels. I doubt they will ever get samsung, huawei etc on board.
  • Yeah true, gotta start somewhere.
  • I am thinking about going back to iPhone. I had it once a day I thought it was a good platform. Hardware costs a little more, however, I have had it with googles "beg for forgiveness" business model when a foreign govt calls them on the carpet for it's data scraping.
  • Apple turns over your iCloud data on legal basis just like Google, Microsoft or any other company. They just provide good on device encryption and make it much harder to get the on device data. But anything stored or backed up to Apple servers they are under the same rules as everyone else. You can argue they do have less data about you in general compared to Google and Facebook, that's correct and have no argument there.
  • Yes, I know Apple will also turn over your data. I also have no problem with Google, Apple, Facebook, your ISP, mobile carrier, etc. turning over data to the government. The part that drives me bonkers is how the same "progressives" that jumped to Snowden's defense (including most of the California Democrats in Congress) have been largely silent about Facebook and Google data collection practices and not cracking down on international folks posting political ads yet yell "Russians" at every opportunity. If you ask me, If I am NOT logged on in my Google Account, Google should NOT build a profile on me through my IP addresses and use of My Android phone UNLESS I opt in. Instead, Google clearly states and their new Privacy Disclosures (which I applaud them for being more descriptive than in the past) that they will profile the crap out of me whether I agree to have them store my data (which I don't) or not. That's BS and they should be called out on that! The EU, and now Australia, are calling them out on it which I think is totally fair! I also wish some of the loud mouth Congressional California D's should as well -- especially the PROMINENT screechers in the SF Bay area!
  • I guess I don't really see the point. Switching to an iPhone will only encrypt messages by default to other iPhone users. So unless you only message with other iPhone users going forward, you're back to square-one with having to use 3rd party options when communicating with Android users. Also - iMessage still seemingly can't get SMS right. I mean, its supposed to seamlessly fall back to SMS when messaging with a non iPhone user, right? So many times have I had messages delayed, out of order, or just never go through, that it actually did force iPhone users I know (ie: my livid girlfriend at the time) to install and use 3rd party clients. TLDR - "It just works' is simply not true when it comes to iMessage.
  • Yep completely agree, but according to Phil most of his family and friends are using iPhone so iMessage works for him. But yeah in general iMessage doesn't complete solve the problem for everyone since it's not cross platform. Then we are back to using third party apps.
  • Makes me wonder if it'll get better or worse if RCS actually takes off. Either way, one vanished or delayed message is enough to lose faith in iMessage til Apple proves otherwise.
  • Anyone reading my text messages is going to be extremely bored. Sorry, unless you're doing something naughty this is nothing to lose sleep over. And if the government wants your information they're going to get it anyway.
  • I was completely unaware this was an issue.
    Everyone I know uses WhatsApp.
    Let's all agree to use nothing else and we need never worry about it again...
  • If only... Whatsapp owes me some money the amount of people I got to use it. But there's always those random stubborn people or people who will install and never use because iMessage.
  • No thanks. Whatsapp uses our metadata and of course it is Facebook Signal is my go to messenger.
  • A question. If Google were to simply integrate all their communication applications into their Gmail service and apps, would they run into problems with antitrust violations?
  • Seems like a weird outcome from such a long time Android advocate. Why would anyone expect Google to lock themselves out of data by default? That's their whole business. There are plenty of cross-platform options, as others mentioned, to freely install across your devices. I mean, I get the rant and importance of encryption by default, since not everyone thinks about that. The switch to iOS part is a ridiculous "solution". I can't imagine Phil will go through with it, but he sure did get people to engage!
  • I see your point and I agree... I however, can careless! I use whatsapp mostly, about 80% of my messaging.. Even to some customers, whatsapp is better for them. Most of my friends have family in other countries, so it's their to go to app. Having my GS9+ is better than your iPhone is a better status for me. 😂 Besides, iMessage can be messy, and I've seen in with my friends iPhones.. Always come to me to even try to fix their iOS bugs, but that's how iOS is now, always breaking something.. So good luck to ya!
  • Ugh, I hate that argument. Just because you want something private, doesn't mean that you're doing something illegal. Maybe you like to role play with your wife that you two are an international spy couple. Would you want strangers reading about that? There are a huge number of legal things that you and your friends and family can discuss that you may not want perfect strangers to read or easily gain access to. You know, people don't care about privacy until it's taken from them. And this attitude that privacy doesn't matter because you have nothing to hide is daft and childish at best, dangerous at worse. Not caring about privacy is giving others permission, hell, even daring them, to take away your privacy. And by giving up that privacy, you're allowing the government and others to judge and control your life. Privacy isn't just about hiding something, it's about freedom of thought -- freedom to have your own views without influence by the government or corpoations.
  • Did you know you posted this on an unencrypted comment sections of a publicly available website? Did your freedom of thought disappear? Has the government taken control of you? Is is possible there is a gradient to privacy needs and expectations? Speaking just for myself, MY texts are uninteresting enough that I don't care if they are intercepted. I don't think that the government is trying to influence me based on my discussions of dinner and chores. I also don't encrypt my in-person, vocal communications. I do whisper sometimes, or wait for someone to leave the room. I have different needs and desires regarding privacy that are content dependent. I consider what I'm saying, how likely it is that anyone would listen in, what they could do with any information that is being shared, and the convenience of increasing privacy.
  • This forum isn't encrypted and private???? OMG! Why don't they say so????? Look I understand that people feel that their emails are so boring they don't care if anyone sees them (although, to those people, I'd say then post your email and password on a public forum if you don't care who sees them) and I know everyone thinks the chances are small that they will be surveillanced. But that's not the point. The point is that we shouldn't take our privacy for granted. In Nicaragua, the government is searching texts and private emails to see who is speaking negative about the government and arresting those people during the recent civil unrest. That won't happen here in the near term, but it's a slippery slope. We need to take privacy and freedom seriously and not be so laissez faire about it. The minute you don't respect a fundamental right like freedom, that's when you are in danger of losing it.
  • And I realize that this is overkill for an article about text encryption; text being encrypted or not isn't going to be the end of the world. I was just responding to those who keep saying asinine things like "why do you need privacy if you don't have anything to hide?" That is a dangerous stance to have about privacy.
  • I think this is in the context of text messages only.
    Unlike emails most people do not use text for any sensitive communications.
    Just like chatting in public some people aren't as concerned if it's not encrypted.
    But with around 1.5 billion people using WhatsApp an encrypted service is available for all.
  • I hear you Phil. I'm also that guy that has everyone trying out different messenger services. The majority of people don't care, or even know, about encrypted messages. I'm just hoping that something good comes out by the time Whatsapp starts showing adds or videos in conversations! Blackberry messenger was the biggest chance lost for Android users. I like my privacy, but absolutely can't stand iOS. Not even as I've gotten older and care less about what made me like Android in the first place. Plus, I don't live in the U.S. so SMS and iMessage is almost none existent.
  • I think Jerry needs to talk to you about how broken the entire system is as a whole. While iOS is encrypted when you send a message through iMessage, it isn't when you send a message through regular sms.
    Likewise RCS can improve on a lot of things, but it wasn't built with encryption in mind.
    You would essentially have to do the same thing iMessage or apps like Signal do now. You have to have some form of middle service for all of this to work; which means you either need to offer an app or get it adopted by Apple for it to really function properly.
  • Or build an encryption protocol into the RCS universal profile... Google and the carriers are in bed with the government though and that's the real reason it's not there. Once you get a taste of the sweet sweet cash from the military industrial complex you are willing to bow down to the government war lords on just about anything.
  • I've been able to get my whole family and most of my friends on Signal. But I totally get where you're coming from, Phil. I've been tempted to go iPhone myself but I really like my pixel way too much. :-)
  • Screw apple
  • Not even iMessage is enough to make me go back to the dumpster fire that is iPhone and iOS, the most overrated and overpriced platform from the most disgraceful company in the world. Android is far superior in everything else except maybe for messages but it's a small price to pay and I'll stay with Android, the greatest and the world's most popular, powerful and advanced mobile OS in the world by the world's greatest company and search engine giant in the world that is Google. I have nothing to hide, I have the best of both worlds, I have WhatsApp if I want end to end encryption in my messages.
  • Phil is right on the issue (despite the poor medical/gloves analogy) but switching to iOS does little to solve the problem unless literally everyone you communicate with has an iphone and you refuse to communicate with anyone who doesn't.
  • Phil - I will say this. You just needed a reason to switch. Feel free though, I know you will come back.
  • Maybe it's just me, but I can't find myself switching to a phone just solely on messaging.
  • Interesting. But, it is a case of "I don't have to because I'm so successful not doing it". I find that in tech the best software often comes from the smaller upstarts with more to lose than the incumbents. When iOS was a new thing Apple brought the best because they already saw what was on the horizon with the status quo and what was coming with Android being open source. So they came into this with some very, very, good ideas, like iMessage and FaceTime. iOS is big, but it isn't as big as Android. Android got to where it is by making it really easy to get into smartphones. Devices were either free, or sold at a loss, or heavily subsidized, whatever. So Google's only incentive to improve Android was to keep people from defecting to iOS, as you have. And Google still does not have the incentive because Google's products are still bigger than anything the competition has come up with. Maybe WhatsApp but that is more overseas. Google is just now including Duo by default on phones. Just like Google Voice is just now, after eight years I don't know, is getting the full feature set in one app, instead of requiring Hangouts and Hangouts Dailer; Skype had this years ago. They made you pay a lot of money for it, but they did have it. As far as defecting to iOS, stability, security, and simplicity is all that the platform has going on for it. Just not a very exciting platform to me. I do like taking pictures with an iPhone but nothing else impresses me about it. But those are very huge pivotal points for a lot of people. Blackberry had the right idea but bringing BBM to other platforms was too little, too late.
  • Excellent article, sent from my iPhone X, with a Pixel 2 XL as a project/tinkering phone. Made the switch for primary device around iPhone 7, largely based on communications- security, multimedia, etc., but I still like staying abreast of the most current Android.
  • So Phil i guess i don't get this. It's so much easier for you and the family to just pick an app then move to iOS unless that is what you wanted to do and just use this as an excuse. You can just as easily pretend that Google's default app is Facebook messenger or signal. Google can't make imessage as they about 80+ percent of the world market and they would be looked at as antitrust for favoring their messaging app over competitors like Facebook, what's app and so on for forcing their app to be the default do everything chat client on all Android certified phones just look at the EU. They say Google can't even make OEMS bundle their Google default apps as it's anti competitive. I think that lawsuits is coming soon. Doing the RCS thing is all they can do at this point. Apple is like 15 percent of the global market. They can get away with anti competitive things but Google can't. PS .. Google's can't get all the phone companies sound the world to sign on for encrypted rcs messages so that is a no go.
  • My point is that we shouldn't have to pick an app. Google's failed us by not offering an option by default. (And Apple's failed by not offering iMessage on Android.)
  • So because Google didn't pre load WhatsApp or similar your moving to iPhone.
    Must be more to it than that?
  • I like competition. I don't think the problem is Google. I think that the problem is that people don't really care about encryption. There have been Android phones in the past promising encryption and no one bought them. And there are messengers and calling apps that promise encryption that no one uses. I don't think that Google needs to force anyone to use or do anything. That is the entire point of Android that if I want to live dangerously no one is going to stop me. If I wanted to play it safe I would stick with an iPhone. And I resent half hearted attempts by Google to idiot proof Android and think that it knows what is best for consumers. This is what Google wants to turn Android into. They are going to lose that argument because there are already mobile operating systems that promise that (iOS) and others that tried and lost (Windows). They probably learned from the handicapping they tried back in KitKat and thought better of it. Encryption is like the old VHS/Beta argument. Encryption is Beta. Yes, it is superior, but people want the app that is attractive that everyone uses. It isn't even a money argument products with encryption, and those without, are both free. Reminds me of people that I know that prefer to use Messenger. The product uses the worst codecs and there are obviously superior video calling products out there but because everyone already has a Facebook account they all use Messenger. I'll use Messenger for audio calls but not for video. For me it is on principle because there are other apps that are smaller in size that offer video calling. I see no reason to have a 200 MB app on my phone. So I stick with Messenger Lite. People don't care in tech. It is all peer pressure, whatever bloggers use, what's popular, etc no one thinks for themselves anymore. It is all collectivism.
  • Phil has a valid point for the need of e2e encryption. For practical reasons he needs to be on iOS. That said, Google does need to build in encryption into Chat just like iOS. Make it cross compatible and default as part of cert for android. Make it work with RCS and data and we're golden. Do I see them doing that. Does the image of a snowball in hades have any meaning to you?
  • Wow, Phil switched? After some thought I get it, I really do. Apple and it's iMessage drug have played me since it came out. I've switched back and forth more times than I care to admit. While I call it a drug I also understand the lure of end to end encryption with other iPhone users. It took me forever to get my early 60's age parents to a smart phone and I chose the iPhone for them- ease of use. Over the years I have gotten other family members over to that platform too. Google should address this someday but I don't think it will be soon. Maybe a decision was made in the boardroom to start with RCS and then after some time, start encrypting Messages. Bring features everyone wants now: read receipts, higher media limits, typing indicators and then follow up with encryption. Google has made so many deals with carriers that I don't think it has a chance of being an immediate product without tripping over those deals. Go into each carrier store and you can buy an iPhone. Not so much with the Pixel. Maybe when that changes (it will) can Google shore up messaging and offer end to end encryption. I think many will switch back when that happens. It's not like Phil's dying to switch, just a necessity based on his own use, which is entirely understandable. Hopefully one day he can come back. What I would like to read is what he thinks of the phone after a couple weeks. I've been back since the Nexus 6P but I always like to read another opinion on life on the other side of the fence, especially a long-time user.
  • I'm grumbling about the switch a lot, too. :p
  • I'm doing the same Phil. My entire family is Apple/iMessage...I'm the outlier on Android. I don't love iOS...but I do love my 4th Amendment rights being protected more, so I'll be switching back (with lots of grumbling) as well.
  • I think the option you dream of isn't likely. Google has more or less said that its not possible to get critical mass on a messaging service in todays environment, everyone is entrenched with what they now how. So they are doing the next best thing and getting the universal default up to snuff. Apple is encrypted, except when its not. In apples best market, they have maybe 50%? SO you have a 50/50 shot of sending a message to someone encrypted. I think google is on the right path, chat as a less private default and third party apps for users who need something for secure. Apple's service feels like a hack to me.
  • Google should have bought WhatsApp and preloaded it onto every android phone.
    With billions more regular users it could have forced Apple, Samsung and any other manufacturer to play ball.
  • They tried but I think Fb beat them out.. I think.. Or They tried and it didn't work out, then afterwards FB bought them.
  • As long as you know something is unencrypted, you can treat it like a post card. There are many electronic communications that can be intercepted -- phone calls, emails, sms, etc. I wouldn't consider this a platform change crisis - since android is just using the standard provided by the carriers. Use it as a reason to promote IM clients that offer encryption for everyone without platform lock-in.
  • Google don't want encryption. They want to have access to your messages the same way as they have access to your emails.
  • Kudos to Apple's marketing team for making this a thing. From following Phil over the years I know he's got smart devices all over the house that track god knows what. If someone wanted to track him, his iMessages may be the only thing they couldn't find.
  • Thanks for the write up. The second to last sentence is summing up how I'm feeling these days. What you talked about is one of the big reasons I'm possibly looking to make the switch to iOS this year. The two things that are important to me are EASY secure messaging and secure photo sharing with family. I tried Signal because it could do SMS/MMS and end to end encryption in one app. It was great until a phone died on me and we lost a number of audio messages and pictures about my son because the media couldn't be backed up at the time. So I switched to WhatsApp, but now family members constantly send me messages from either WhatsApp or their text client... and get confused as to where their previous messages are because they're using both. So security and convenience has been a pain. The photos part is annoying as I still can't privately share photo albums in Google Photos. Meaning if someone got the link of the albums I've shared with family, they could view it as it doesn't require any log in or authentication. Not that I have anything weird, but I'd like to have a little more control of the pictures of my kids. As much as I hate it, iOS does these two things well without much hassle. I hate the walled garden and I very much prefer Android to iOS... however I've been playing my new iPad a bit and it's not as bad as I remembered it. Still deciding if I'll make the switch or not, but we'll see. tl;dr : I agree. It's one of the reasons I'm contemplating a switch as well.
  • Welcome to iMessage/iOS/iPhone. iMessage is 99.9999999% of the reason I refuse to give up an iPhone.
    I have a google pixel 2 and iPhone X. I love everything about android, Except Messaging. Android messaging is pure hot trash. Even on the pixel. Pictures are compressed and look like a dumpster fire by the time they get to the recipient. Videos: lol worse that hot garbage... just don't bother.
    iMessage can send large files (up to 5GB seamlessly) and it just works. Not to mention iMessage also works on your Mac and iPad and iPod. in fact ALL of icloud: mail, contacts, calendar, reminders, notes, bookmarks, Home, health, Wallet (Apple Pay), game center, Siri, Keychain, and Find my "whatever" all work seamlessly on All Apple products with a single iCloud email sign in. Users never have to think about it. it just works.
    Android should have had an "iMessage" of their own within 6 months of iMessage being released.
    You say that it's a head scratcher WHY they haven't already done that.
    Come on Phil, You know why.... unlike Apple, google wants to read EVERY single message people send to add to their search engine. They want to know everything everyone talks about, no matter how big or small, so they can see how humans talk to each other. There is no other reason not to have fixed messages on android like 7.5 years ago....
  • i agree! Also google refuses to force certain standards on to device manufacturers and carriers. But since that is not where their money is really coming from why would they care. they have the technology and ability to do it they just don't want to force it and until they do it will not happen. I love android i really do but having only 2 Mobile OS really kills innovation.
  • The more I read your comment the more I agree. Messaging on Android truly is hot garbage. I have tried to get my family members that have iPhones to try WhatsApp or Signal so that I can send them large images/files etc but no luck. Images sent through Android Messages look like poop. Someone else here said it- they don't want multiple messaging apps because they can't keep track of their conversations as easily and I understand that. I have convos on Slack, Hangouts and Android Messages that I have a hard time remembering who I was talking to and where. Many teams at my employer have started using iMessages between each other because of the E2E encryption and most of them have quit Slack. We all use Macs and they have been sending images, etc between them using iMessages on their computers or by using Airdrop from iPhone to Mac. I know it is a walled garden but you can't dismiss the convenience of it. I sat up last night for a while trying to walk my brain through the reasons why I would switch. The list of reasons to stay with Android is getting shorter and shorter, which sucks. I feel like since the Pixels came out they truly have optimized software and have a great experience...until you try to message. Trying to sell the alternative messaging services has one feeling like a used car salesman. Finally my family said get an iPhone. I'm going to go by the Apple Store next week and look around. I had my wife's 7 Plus for a few days but it has gone to her mother. Maybe I can have them wait until Sept when the new ones come out...
  • I completely agree if not solely for privacy. I like the end to end encryption not that i necessarily need it but all of the extra features that come with imessage are great. and keep me locked in which is apple's plan. Why charge $1.99/month when they can charge you $1000 for a phone. and then you spend money in their app store. There is no logical business path that would drive apple to make imessage anything other than exclusive. Right now it is the driving factor for a lot of people to keep using iphones. And i know everyone is going to say well just use whats app etc., Yes most of my friends use facebook messenger (which i refuse to use) or whatsapp, but now i have to have my wife use that, and teach all of my and her family how so that sending pictures and videos between each other is easy. That is a feat all in of itself for anyone with non tech friends knows how tricky this is. Most of my friends/family have iphones, except a few. If they can all just use imessage to communicate with each other seamlessly why do they want to download my new app use that when they talk to me only? And the youth today all seem to just use snapchat which i guess i am too old to appreciate even though i am only 30. It is barriers like this that make it very difficult for the adoption of new apps for some of us. I used to love hangouts when it had SMS support, google dropped that, then i got excited for Allo, but it did not support SMS (it does sort of, but sends your friends prompts to sign up for allo which no one wants believe me.)
    and now RCS in the messages app. Which is not default on most phones. Most of the people i know use the carrier SMS app or the one provided on the device. Those are the same people that drive the market. So unless google forces certain things it will take a long time for change.
  • Wow, this messaging problem has forced Phil over to iMessage. I agree with everything in this article. Implementing RCS just makes sense because we'll always need a 'fallback'. They could implement IM-like features into Android Messages and then have RCS/SMS as a fallback. If Apple ever decided to release an iMessage app for android I think it would end up being installed on the vast majority of android phones in the US. That is just how bad the messaging experience is on Android.
  • Dude, by what calculations did you figure out Google is selling most smartphones in the world? That's a terrible fallacy that makes me think your whole post is scam. You would say anything just to rationalize your subjective choice.
  • Nope, not breaking ranks. Even if androids messaging is unencrypted, iOS is so dull. Writing this now on a iPad, and after a few things that the iPad does quicker, than my 2 year old phone, it is so uninteresting after that , that I just can’t take it. iOS devices remind me so much of a regular “static” dumb phone, you can only do what Apple wants you to do, and you can only take it so far. Yes android’s have faults, but the benefits are so amazing, and the breadth of things you can do outweigh a lot.
  • I'm honestly confused as to why an operating system has to be... "flashy." I unlock my phone, do what I have to do, then put it back in my pocket. I am not waiting for it to WOW me when I use it. I just need it to accomplish the tasks I have to get done. Also, if iOS reminds you of a dumb phone, then you clearly were born very recently and have never used one.
  • Google also has the pull to intergrade video calling into the dialer like iOS but they don't. They need to get on this.
  • Have no problem with iMessage. Honestly, I barely communicate with any Android users, anyways, so I don't often green bubbles that often.
  • Ive been the faithful Android fanboy since the days of the HTC Hero but let's get real here....messaging /encryption isn't the only thing Google fails miserably at and Google is not the "do no evil" company of yester year. I've grown completely sick of everything Google and without getting into the list of reasons, I will just say that I'm on board with Phil here and had already decided that iPhone will indeed be my next upgrade. It will be my last step in weening myself from Google and it's services haven already left Google Search and Chrome for different services and in the process of changing all my email important contacts to Outlook.com mail. I'm going to feel completely liberated to delete my Google account for good.
  • « Apple's iMessage service does it right — encrypted messaging out of the box — even if its lock-in to Apple-only devices is very much wrong » No it’s not! It’s a feature that’s nit a lock-in! There are other cross platform apps. And when imessage is not available it turns to sms automatically even in a same thread...
  • « all the little annoyances that make up the one big annoyance that is iOS » Android has many little annoyances that drives me crazy too! And iMessage is a ios feature. Apple is first z manufacturer thzt develops hardware and the software for its hardware...
  • I think google would be smart to approach BlackBerry about adding RCS support into BBM. It doesn't get much attention anymore, but it still has a solid user base, and on both platforms