For many iPhone users, there is a common annoyance when it comes to texting: A friend switches to Android and the message bubbles in the group chat turn green.
When people text between iPhones and Android phones, things start to break: Pictures and videos get pixelated, messages sometimes don’t get sent, or they come late or out of order. Typing indicators become disabled, and reactions, like a thumbs up or heart, are written out in text instead of displayed as badges on the bubbles. People have been complaining about it for years.
Google on Tuesday launched a marketing campaign slamming Apple over the issue. The search giant published a website called “Get the Message,” urging people to call out Apple on social media for “broken group chats.”
“It’s time for Apple to fix texting,” the website reads. “These problems exist because Apple refuses to adopt modern texting standards when people with iPhones and Android phones text each other.”
The website also points out alternatives to Apple’s iMessage that work well for texting between operating systems, including the privacy-focused chat app Signal, and Meta-owned WhatsApp.
The campaign is the most aggressive move yet from Google in an attempt to convince Apple to make its texting service more compatible with Android phones, breaking a decorum in which tech giants rarely badmouth each other by name. Teens and college students reportedly dread being ostracized for green bubbles, according to The Wall Street Journal. Earlier this year, Android’s top boss, Hiroshi Lockheimer, said Apple’s upper hand in texting was the result of “peer pressure and bullying.”
Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The reason for the issues is the technology behind the messaging services. Apple uses SMS, or Short Message Service, and MMS, or Multimedia Message Service — two stalwart but aging protocols that were released in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. Google is pushing Apple to adopt RCS, or Rich Communication Services, a newer protocol that the company adopted in 2019 to modernize texting on Android phones. Getting both iPhones and Android phones on RCS would also mean messages between the two operating systems could become end-to-end encrypted, right now a glaring security issue.
Despite its standing and brand awareness, Google has long struggled to build successful messaging apps for its platforms. The company has released and shuttered several texting services over the years, including Hangouts and Allo, that failed to gain traction with consumers.
For Apple, the green bubble strategy is by design. “In the absence of a strategy to become the primary messaging service for [the] bulk of cell phone users, I am concerned the iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said in a 2013 email. The email was made public last year as part of an antitrust legal battle between Apple and Epic, maker of the popular Fortnite video game.
In another email, a former Apple executive put it more bluntly: “iMessage amounts to serious lock-in.”
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