The Green Bubble Uproar misses the point entirely. Why iMessage is actually a failure? Read the article until the end.
iMessage is now a part of the discourse again, a little more than ten years after its debut. According to a shady story in the Wall Street Journal, the key to the iPhone’s popularity with young people is peer pressure, with Android-using kids being pushed out of social circles since they are non-iMessage green bubbles in group conversations.
That piece was ridiculous for a variety of reasons, as John Gruber detailed last week. While blue-bubble FOMO is undoubtedly real, claiming that it is the reason people desire iPhones is just illusion. “People only purchase Apple products since they are status symbols,” as the saying goes.
When it comes to today’s texting ecosystem, iMessage isn’t a world-beating behemoth. In fact, in terms of global acceptability, user experience, and innovation, I’d argue that iMessage’s first decade was more of a loss than a success.
The entire globe has spoken up
Let’s start with the basics: this argument around iMessage is only taking place among Americans. iMessage is an afterthought in most parts of the world. Platform-agnostic chat applications like WeChat, WhatsApp, & Facebook Messenger are the most popular, albeit the specific apps differ by nation.
I’m not sure what Apple could have done to prevent this. According to one explanation, consumers in most nations abandoned traditional text messaging quicker than they did in the United States, owing to higher per-message fees–and Apple was simply too late to the party. It would have had to produce an iMessage app for Android if it had wanted to compete, but it opted not to. Other applications were chosen by users.
But, given Apple’s decision not to embrace Android, it’s reasonable to assume that iMessage was never designed to compete with the rest of the world for instant messaging supremacy. It had a more limited charter from the start. The idea was to make Apple’s operating systems less reliant on the outdated, carrier-controlled SMS text messaging technology.
And by that metric, Apple was a success. iPhone (and Mac, iPad, and Apple Watch) users mostly utilize iMessage instead of SMS. They use Apple’s servers and don’t involve their carriers. When you think about what happened to Google, calling this a success may seem like a low threshold. The company’s attempts to establish a chat service have failed miserably, making Google executives’ cynical and opportunistic protestations based on the Wall Street Journal look even more arrogant, spiteful, and cultish than normal.
The purpose of iMessage is to create a reliable, end-to-end encrypted service for the Apple environment that can (secondarily) coexist alongside SMS communications so that iPhones may communicate with individuals outside of Apple’s ecosystem. It’s effective. It’s far superior to anything Google has tried. The issue is that it isn’t good enough.
Apple’s UX blunder – Is iMessage is actually a failure?
The reason I consider iMessage a failure rather than a success is due to its slow rate of development and bad decisions, especially when compared to the world’s WhatsApps and WeChats.
The fact is that Apple understood it was competing with such apps at some point. As a response, it launched the iMessage App Store, which it plainly expected to sweep the globe by storm. It was a complete failure. Which is understandable–Apple took a shot and missed.
The issue isn’t that consumers aren’t ordering pizza in their iMessage chats or that sticker applications aren’t the next great thing. The issue is that when it failed, Apple reacted with what I’ll call apathy, though it’s probably more appropriate to call it denial paired with inflexibility. Instead of identifying the problem and determining what to do next, Apple did what it does so frequently with its failures: it let them rust away and then quietly vanished.
In iMessage, Apple just included answers and mentions. They’re… not that great? However, I respect your effort. I’m hoping Apple is working on fresh adjustments to improve the experience, but my concern is that it will abandon that feature as well, and it will remain unfinished for the rest of time.
That isn’t to argue that iMessage hasn’t been a success for Apple. Apple Pay Cash (again, only accessible in the United States!) is fantastic, and I use it frequently. Tapbacks are maybe Apple’s finest iMessage feature ever.
Even when Apple wins a clear iMessage victory, the situation becomes murky. Tapbacks are a major annoyance for non-iMessage users, so much so that Google included Tapback translation to Android. And, after launching the function with six different emoji-style replies, Apple hasn’t touched it since. Why don’t you add a few more reactions? Why not give consumers the option to respond with any emoji? Or do you like to choose favorites? There isn’t a response. Nobody is in the home.
What’s the best way to deal with green bubbles?
Rich Communications Services (RCS), an alternative for regular SMS text messaging that Google offers for Android, was devised by a group of US carriers a few years ago. Apple currently does not support RCS, and there is no sign that they would in the future.
Many folks feel it’s all part of Apple’s plan to maintain the spotlight on iMessage as much as possible by diminishing the non-iMessage experience. And I agree that Apple is unlikely to prioritize RCS support for the same reason. There could also be some technical problems preventing the Messages app from connecting to RCS.
In the long run, though, Apple should enable RCS. RCS isn’t a great standard since it’s a carrier-designed system that relies on telephone number rather than more portable IDs and isn’t secured end-to-end. RCS, on the other hand, will never, ever be a replacement for iMessage. It’s a substitute or augmentation for SMS in the Messages app–and it’s clearly an advance in that regard.
But, in the end, the main reason Apple should adopt RCS (as a green bubble, or possibly a new color of bubble) is because it’s a more feature-rich protocol that will improve the experiences of everyone in mixed-platform scenarios, including iPhone and Android users. It’s not simply an Android problem; it’s a usability issue on the iPhone as well.
Who knows when it will happen, given Apple’s stubbornness as guardian of iMessage and the Messages app. Even if Apple has already lost to chat applications and iMessage is only effective as an Apple-ecosystem conversation service, it needs to be praised. It can’t seem to get enough of it.