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Why Google's iMessage equivalent isn't able to create a green bubble cult

Iphone Pixel 6 Rcs Imessage Alt
Iphone Pixel 6 Rcs Imessage Alt (Image credit: Android Central)

Instead of complaining about Apple's iMessage service and pushing the company to adopt RCS, Google could easily fix its problem by creating a unified messaging platform, but experts say the company has been "chronically plagued" by too many cooks in the kitchen and have simply not prioritized this.

Last week a Wall Street Journal article detailed how Apple has locked-in U.S. teens with its iMessage service. In response to this, Google's senior vice president Hiroshi Lockheimer tweeted: "Apple's iMessage lock-in is a documented 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."

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Lockheimer is referring to the solution of having Apple adopt Rich Communication Service (RCS), a standard created by the GSMA in 2008 that is an upgrade to what we all know as SMS. RCS offers better messaging capabilities, and it has end-to-end encryption and support for non-phone devices.

Google has been trying for years to push this standard, and after much persuasion, major U.S. carriers have supported Google's endeavor by making Google Messages the default on the best Android phones, making Apple the main holdout. Apple hasn't publicly declined that it wouldn't adopt RCS, but it is clear through the Epic vs. Apple Trial that Apple is intentionally refusing to give its strong position with iMessage.

"I am concerned the iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove an obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones," Apple executive Craig Federighi wrote in an email in April 2013, which was revealed during the trial. The email added: "I think we need to get Android customers using and dependent on Apple products."

Will getting Apple to adopt RCS force the company to reconsider its tacit approval of green bubble bullying?

imessage-android

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

In an interview, Ron Amadeo, reviews editor and reporter at Ars Technica, says that Apple is encouraging bullying, but that it's doing so through the iMessage user experience, and this is "designed to 'other' Android users with green bubbles."

He says that this is Apple's marketing strategy and that the company "wants people to look down on Android users." But having Apple adopt RCS doesn't necessarily mean that the bullying will stop, he adds.

"I don't think an underlying protocol change would solve iMessage's UX issues, though. If you swap out SMS for RCS and your bubbles are still green, I don't think anything will change. Bullying is usually not logic-based. Since I think the bullying question is mostly about Apple's marketing strategy, suggesting a protocol change as a solution doesn't make any sense to me," — Ron Amadeo, reviews editor and reporter at Ars Technica.

Anshel Sag, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, doesn't necessarily think Apple is bullying but that the company's policies have enabled this behavior.

"Apple ultimately cares about what's best for its own ecosystem and users, and their behavior around iMessage and RCS has made that quite clear. I don't think Google rolling out its own version or competitor to iMessage will solve the problem."

Why can't Google create a unified messaging system? TLDR: messaging services are just not a primary responsibility

hangouts-google

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Amadeo writes in an Ars Technica article that "Google giving other companies advice on a messaging strategy is a laughable idea since Google probably has the least credibility of any tech company when it comes to messaging services."

Google doesn't have divisions that have definitive responsibilities for messaging, says Ron Amadeo

Since the launch of Apple's iMessage in 2011, Google has launched 13 different messaging apps, he writes in a tweet.

"It's so embarrassing to complain about this. We begged you to support a single messaging platform for years. We screamed that messaging was important and that you should throw resources behind it. You had a good platform when Hangouts supported SMS but you just…lost interest," he tweeted.

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Amadeo says to Android Central that the crux of the issue is that Google just has not made an iMessage competitor because "none of the internal Google divisions have a definitive responsibility for messaging, and the Google CEO won't demand any division to make messaging a primary responsibility."

Rene Ritchie, a technology analyst and former editorial director at iMore, agrees and says that Google is "chronically plagued by too many cooks in the kitchen, a ton of internal politics, and many competing agendas."

"Why was Hangouts killed? Politics. Why is every Pixel so different? Politics. It's a hard problem for them to solve," he says.

Ritchie adds that if Google had something that was equivalent to WhatsApp, Messenger, or Instagram IM, this messaging issue wouldn't have been so big.

"Likewise [Google's] share in North America is dropping. If they were growing Android here, I don't think it would have come up. It's astonishing Google of all companies didn't lock this up," he says.

Because Google just simply hasn't cared or prioritized a unified messaging system, customers have also not cared, says Carmi Levy, a technology analyst,

"Google has launched a number of attempts over the years to compete directly against iMessage, but they have all largely failed due to the company's unwillingness and/or inability to properly resource the services at launch, and consistently market them to users over time," he says. "Similar to Google's ill-starred attempts to become a serious player in the social media space (remember Buzz, Orkut, and Google+?), its half-hearted attempts to lead the messaging space have failed to captivate users and get them to standardized messaging workflows on these new products."

The issue between Google and Apple is important and you should be caring about RCS

RCS chat

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Android Central recently conducted a poll asking readers if Apple should adopt RCS or bring iMessage to Android phones. Of the 2,741 respondents, 76% said iMessage should get RCS support, while 23.5% said Apple should bring iMessage to Android.

One reader, deltatux, notes how neither of Apple or Google's messaging apps are widely used outside of the United States, but bringing RCS to iMessage would still be in line with Apple's desire to keep its app platform-specific:

In many parts of the world, iMessage doesn't have a stranglehold on the messaging market, so this issue largely affects the U.S., it seems. Outside the U.S., many have been on WhatsApp, Telegram, WeChat, Viber, LINE, Signal, etc., where they're already multiplatform.While RCS isn't ideal, it is a direct replacement for SMS. Apple wants to lock users in with iMessage to keep iPhone sales, so bringing RCS to iMessage wouldn't run counter to their desire to lock iPhone users in.Outside the U.S., I'm not sure how compelling it would be for users if Apple launched iMessage on Android, considering many iPhone users in these markets likely use a multiplatform messaging app alongside iMessage already, and Android users are likely comfortable there already.Here in Canada, people often expect you to have at least WhatsApp. Sure, iMessage is widely used here, but it's not an expectation like it is in the States, it seems.

Whether you're an iOS user with blue bubbles or an Android user who pops up as green bubbles, Ritchie says that RCS is still a new system that people should care about.

"While it's still not mature and most people in the world have gone to apps, having iMessage fail over to SMS isn't private or secure. I'd much rather it fail over to RCS, which is 1:1 encrypted now and I think working on 1:N encrypted," he says.

While the issue of Google urging Apple to adopt RCS and complaining about iMessage has been ongoing for a very long time, Sag says that it's still a story that people should care about.

"It has been an ongoing concern in my eyes because it impairs people's ability to communicate with each other and to do so quickly and effectively," he says. "Having an Android user on a group chat does break the user experience for iMessage users, and having iOS users on a chat sending Android users notifications that they hearted a message is also pretty useless without an actual visual cue there."

On the flip side, Levy adds that Google likely cares about the RCS/iMessage narrative far more than its customers do. He says that while some Android users might feel "somewhat sheepish" when their message comes up as a green bubble for iOS users, "in the end, I think Google's accusation is a little more than an indication of its frustration at being left behind by a competitor."

Shruti Shekar
Shruti Shekar

Shruti Shekar is Android Central's senior reporter and also the second Canadian on the team. She was born in India, brought up in Singapore, but now lives in Toronto and couldn't be happier. She started her journalism career as a political reporter in Ottawa, Canada's capital, and then made her foray into tech journalism at MobileSyrup and most recently at Yahoo Finance Canada. When work isn't on her mind, she loves working out, reading thrillers, watching the Raptors, and planning what she's going to eat the next day.

51 Comments
  • Google Messages is incredible.
    iMessage is the one behind in compatibility.
  • What exactly is "incredible" about Google messages?
  • It is inclusive which we need more in this world.
  • Apple has always been a proprietary company and nothing wrong with that. Apple creates it's products, software and services only for it's users who benefit being in their ecosystem and that is very smart. Everything Apple does you see how other companies try to copy and adapt. Is Apple perfect? No. Are Apple products over overpriced? Yes. iOS /iPad OS perfect? No. But, their products work seamlessly with each other. Every company wishes they could be doing what Apple has accomplished from their ecosystem, A series /m series cpu and etc.
  • If iMessage is so behind, then why is Android / Android users the only one complaining?? The above article makes it the 100th time i read among the different websites. I don’t hear any iOS users complaining about being behind in capability.
  • Exactly! It's just Google and some Android users complaining. Do you see Apple complaining that it has a small market share of iphone users to Android? Nope. This is Google's fault as they kept coming up with different apps over the yrs to compete with iMessage but ended them. They should have stuck with one and now they have followed Apple once again. Apple was smart how they built their iMessage over SMS texting bec it's enabled by default instead of having to download an app, sign in, create an ID or etc.
  • How is Google Messages out in front in compatibility? It is compatible with Google Messages, and falls back to SMS when the both parties don't support Google Messages flavored RCS. Same as iMessage. Google's ECS is not standards based RCS in that it bypasses the carriers, and supports end to end encryption in one on one chats.
  • Can Android Central put: USA AND CANADA ONLY When discussing iMessage please because it mostly only applies to Anglo North America. There is simply no debate about Apple's or Google's Messaging apps in Europe, Latin America, Asia and much of the world because people have all in the main migrated to another cross platform solution. WhatsApp, WeChat etc... It's an Anglo North American issue. Ah I see you've mentioned this in the article. These repeat articles are kind boring if you're not an Anglo North American. p.s. I like Google Messages but I couldn't get a single person to install it because they all said they barely send SMS messages any more, also an Anglo North American quirk that you guys in the developed world still actually use SMS.
  • It's an American thing. Not Canadian.
  • Oh really fair enough. I thought Canadians also used SMS a lot too.
  • The use of the term Anglo North American is offensive. The US is a multicultural society with many ethnic groups represented. Just say what you mean like the US. I'm from the southwestern US and many of (most of) my grandchildren are Anglo Hispanic mix. They are good Americans too.
  • Hi, I worded it this way because North American also includes Mexico. I don't just mean USA. Anglo North American isn't meant literally, but the umbrella term for cultural similarities between USA/Canada and not Mexico. The UK is also multicultural, but I'd still call it an English-speaking country. But fair enough, is there a better term to use to mean USA and Canada only? Happy to use it instead. Besides: - The use of British to only mean English is offensive too, but North Americans just ignore that 😉. A British person is English, Scottish, Welsh or possibly Northern Irish (depends who you ask). No such thing technically as a British accent, it's an English accent. Americans say British people are from England. British and Scottish. They sound odd to many English people because factually they're wrong. I'm Ingles in Latin America, cross the border and suddenly I'm British. Odd. - Latin Americans find it offensive people from USA took American to just mean USA. There's no word in English to explain a person from the continent (no equivalent to European). Seems weird to me. In Spanish we have Estadounidense. Latin Americans dislike Americans repurposed the word.
  • Well said, the rest of the world has moved on in terms of cross platform messaging. We'll leave you guys in the US to argue the pros and cons of green vs blue bubble ad nauseam. We hardly use SMS and have since moved to other platforms since the 2 giants won't play nice with each other.
  • The thing that I dislike about whats app is that its mobile companion app on PC, Mac or iPad requires your phone with your whats app client to be online, like Android Web Messages unless they changed it recently hence why I prefer Singal.
  • This is definitely a US issue. I use WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family in Canada and the Caribbean. No issues there. But here in the US, thee blue bubble/green bubble snobbery is definitely real. I faced this first when I switched to IPhone last year. There was "excitement" when folks saw a blue bubble in my replies and expressed disdain for Android) and backlash when I switched back to Android. IMessage is fine and has some nice features, but I cannot pretend to understand why people cared so much.
  • No. I guess the only problem is SMS doesn't support group chats. So if someone is using iMessage you'll just get their messages and won't be part of the wider group. They'd have to relay messages. Plenty of cross platform solutions though. Strange though. I have plenty of friends on iPhones here in The UK. They all use WhatsApp. I never knew this odd snobbery exists until I read American written Android articles.
  • MMS support group features but it needs data enabled for it to work which is virtually every modern smartphone plan from mobile carriers.
    However when iMessage group chat is sent to someone on group who is Android I am not sure if it gets converted to SMS or MMS. I think was real issue but recently corrected with MMS. Still the big culprit with MMS is compressed horrible pixelated video attachements and lower quality pics.
  • This is Polish too apparently😂 a lot of my older family members don’t use whats app or any third party chat, just sms. I only know one who use Skype. Fortunately my close family use iMessage or Signal.
  • How pathetic are people (and this world) when we talk about bullying for the color of your chat bubble? How about we address the bigger underlying mental health problems?
  • If you are a parent of a child who got an iPhone due to peer pressure, then it is a mental health problem.
  • This Android site cares way to much about iMessage. Perhaps the author of this article should just purchase an Apple phone and move on with her life.
  • You miss the point, maybe you should not comment
  • I'd say you've missed the point :). It is what it is. Android has lots of cross platform messaging solutions and if your friends won't use them, SMS isn't so bad or get new friends. I'd chose the later ;).
  • Or the author can just stick to Android and ignore the shallow people who can't get over something as ridiculous as a green bubble in their text string?
  • Just use Signal https://www.signal.org/download/
  • Much ado about nothing. Who cares what method someone uses to communicate? If a group doesn't like the apparent disconnect between iMessage and SMS, then they just need to pick something else. It is quite simple, really. Apple bullying with bubbles? Really? What a stretch. Quit making emotional decisions about everything! As for those who don't understand why so many in the US use SMS, why not? If it works, what is wrong with it? 99% of my messages need and use text characters only. I don't care about the other features. Just because you think I should doesn't make it wrong, old, backwards, etc. That is your problem, not mine. If I want more features than SMS provides, I use something else. It is quite simple, really.
  • I agree to a point, but it does happen the in adult world too. I had an adult try to shame me because she was appalled that I couldn't iMessage her. Needless to say I dismissed her from being a client. I don't need money that bad to have to put up with teenage baloney.
  • So true. People in the U.S. really do get hung up on the green bubble thing. Having spent a considerable amount of time outside the U.S., mostly Japan, I'm partial to Line. The Japanese use it very everything, to include voice. They don't even use the regular voice dialer on their phones. Everything goes through line. It's so much more convenient because you aren't locked into one device.
  • Agreed. I have 2 adult friends who would often shame me for having an Android. I just switched to Whatsapp, end of story for them.
  • Agreed. But the only problem is SMS doesn't support group chats. So if someone is using iMessage you'll just get their messages and won't be part of the wider group. They'd have to relay messages. Plenty of cross platform solutions though.
  • I don't know or care what kind of phone someone has, unless it interferes with my ability to communicate with them. That has not been a problem so far. My only question is does the green/blue bubble have some function beyond indicating that the message is from an iphone or not? If I need to know what kind of phone someone is using before I send a particular message, then the blue/green distinction is useful. If not, its only function is to "other" the other party, not a good thing IMO.
  • Your friend on an iPhone will be able to, you can't: 1. Instant Messaging is instant. It may sound like a small thing but if you're sending lots of messages waiting for each SMS to send gets annoying. 2. Be part of group chats. Any messages you reply to won't go into the group but just to them. You also won't see information from other group members. 3. The ability to send photos and videos. MMS can do this but it's very limited and can cost. 4. Read Reciepts. But agreed SMS isn't the end of the world. Then again the equivalent of iMessage in The UK is WhatsApp, which works on both iPhone and Android, so everyone benefits.
  • My name is MarineDawg and when I chat, the bubble is green.
  • Google's Messaging problem is a problem of company culture that isn't easy to over come. Google sees everything as an A/B test. They basically always have two versions of everything operating at once. Then Google developers build their internal teams and try to build the best products that compete with the other team at Goolge and everywhere else. This is fine for somethings, like Waze vs Google Maps or Fitbit vs WearOS, etc. Other times it doesn't work well at all, like messaging.
  • I message is a US problem cos in my country everyone use WhatsApp
  • If Google was really smart, they'd combine Voice, Messenger, Chat, and Duo into a single app with all their features including SMS/RCS and emergency alerts, etc. into a single messaging app, that does it all, and make that the default for ALL past, current, and future Android phones, then maybe they'd have a ground to stand on. OH, bring back G+ and include it as well as it's meet features.
  • This is the comment I came here for! I honestly don't understand why this is so hard for Google.
  • Apple doesn't combine iMessage and FaceTime. Besides there's a Duo button in Google Messages. Apple doesn't have anything like Google Meet/Chat because Apple doesn't sell to the enterprise market. Google Voice is USA only :(.
  • For those who think that this issue is an “American” thing…….iPhone 13 is the most popular iPhone in China.
  • That may be so, but I bet they are using WeChat and not iMessage. I have a few friends that spent a considerable amount of time over there and that is what they tell me. The point some were making is that iMessage is only a thing in the U.S. Outside of the U.S., even if people are using iPhones, they use a third party app for texting.
  • Canalys says that Apple took the top slot in Q4 2021, with a 22% share of the global smartphone market, and Samsung fell to second place, at 20%. iPhone is very popular among the upper class. iMessage is very popular.
  • Not all people. Most of my older family members from Poland, don’t use any third party app for messaging. They use SMS and they all own Androids. One of them use Skype which I refuse to install because I have Google Voice, Signal, Duo, and other party won’t install Duo or Signal at my invitation. So I use Slack at work, iMessage/FaceTime with my family and friends in the US and Signal just with my parents who I taught to use it. I don’t even have WhatsApp.
  • "He says that while some Android users might feel "somewhat sheepish" when their message comes up as a green bubble for iOS users" Couldn't. Care. Less. What color my chat bubble is on another phone. Anyone who owns an iPhone and complains about green bubble people would never be my friend. I choose friends who aren't that shallow.
  • This. Soooooo much this.^^^^^^
  • Is it even necessary for Google to make an iMessage equivalent for Android? I might be wrong, but I've always felt after reading various articles about apps and about how people use their devices that it's apathy and/or compliancy in that people will often just use whatever their device comes equipped with, even if it isn't a great app. For those of us who've grown up and moved on in search of better app experiences, many really great apps for whatever you're looking to do can be found on the Play Store that makes me think Google would be late to whatever party they're trying to create an app of all apps for. I can remember a time before Google Messages existed. I've used stock texting apps which were basic and at times awful, and it compelled me to find a better texting app. I myself found Textra, I'm sure other great texting apps exist, but for me Textra is just so customizable that it does everything I need and more. I've looked at Google Messages and opted to not bother with it. Google could introduce something new and improved for texting and I'd still probably still not bother with it. Sorry Google, but you're too late to this party to make a difference...
  • Realistically, no matter what Google (or any one else for that matter) does, iMessage is never going to face any serious competition when it comes to iPhone users. Sure, some iPhone users will install Hangouts/Allo/Chat/whatever else Google comes up with next, and/or WhatsApp, and/or Telegram etc... But between the fact it comes pre-installed on every iPhone, enabled by default, and with absolutely no way to turn it off in favor of something else ... That said, it is a shame Google doesn't seem to take messaging seriously. If they were to put serious effort into developing a platform - and got past the whole Google Graveyard they're gonna kill it in 5 months concern - IMHO they very likely could come up with a major platform. Personally, I'd start by merging Chat and Messages. Keep Messages tiered delivery system but expand it so the app first checks to see if the message could be delivered via an end-to-end encrypted IM before falling back to end-to-end RCS and then finally standard SMS. While keeping Chat's multi-device support. Keep it avilable across all of my devices. My phone, tablet, watch, Chromebook, desktop, et al... Including an iOS app for iPhones & iPads, and a website for a catch all fall back. Chat archive is cloud synced so I can pick up any device, even change mid conversation, and be good to go... Bring in some features from Allo, like whisper/SHOUT, ink, stickers, etc... And of course the Assistant - always there ready to suggest nearby restaurants, movie times etc... Use Spaces old code to create public rooms on whatever random topic. Give each their own URL so you can share invites & access the groups without needing the app installed. Throw in some various features from Signal, Telegram and the other messaging platforms. Let me schedule when a message should be delivered. Let me set it as confidential (ala GMail) so it can't be forwarded, copied or screenshooted. Or set it to self-destruct (after read, or after a certain amount of time or at a certain date). Let me delete messages & have it disappear from all of the archives (retroactively apply instant self-destruct?). Let us create even more secure Off The Record rooms. Confidential mode is enabled so you can't screenshot, copy or forward any thing. No logs are saved, as soon as you exit the room, the conversation log is trashed. Only humans are allowed in these rooms, so Google can't eavesdrop via the Assistant (or any other bot). Maybe it switches over to a peer-to-peer connection (obfuscated even further via Tor [and/or Google's answer to Apple's Private Relay if they make one]) so nothing flows through Google at all. They can't collect any meta data about how many messages we share, etc.
  • You're basically talking about Telegram.
  • The all RCS-iMessage compatibility story it's taking a certain route only because someone from Google is complaining about it.
    In fact all major providers in the World (including the U.S.) are taking it as the standard to go with.
    Making RCS available into iMessage it's in 2022 nothing more nothing less than making SMS available 10 years ago.
    Green bubble can even stay there. Who minds? And, as someone already said: the rest of the world moved on. People outside the U.S. know RCS/SMS/iMessage even exist only because they receive some verification codes on that. By making iMessage "talking" to RCS Apple would only make sure there's going to be need for iMessage at all in a few years.
  • "In fact all major providers in the World (including the U.S.) are taking it (RCS) as the standard to go with."
    I'd like a source for that assertion.
  • The problem with Google Messages is Yes millions are already using it but they all see it as the "SMS App", not the "Messaging App".
  • How did Microsoft wind up doing a better job of bringing texting to my PC than Google? Maybe not forcing me to use a specific client on my phone. I think this needs to go wide before it gets narrow and Google takes it seriously. Someone on the Android team needs to put a texting service on the phone, with an open protocol, so the likes of Microsoft and PushBullet aren't faking their way through it. Just like Jabber resulted in an explosion of chat clients, which coalesced into the handful we use today, we'd see everyone knocking out their version of "send texts from your computer." Google will finally see those as a threat, and put out a unified response. But it all starts with that service, and it doesn't require a group effort at Google-- just one person working on Android needs to convince their boss to add it to the mix.