Nothing Phone 2 owners get blue bubbles now. The company shared it has added iMessage to its newest phone through a new “Nothing Chats” app powered by the messaging platform Sunbird. The feature will be available to users in North America, the EU, and other European countries starting this Friday, November 17th.
Nothing writes on its page that it’s doing this because “messaging services are dividing phone users,” and it wants “to break those barriers down.” But doing so here requires you to trust Sunbird. Nothing’s FAQ says Sunbird’s “architecture provides a system to deliver a message from one user to another without ever storing it at any point in its journey,” and that messages aren’t stored on its servers.
Marques Brownlee has also had a preview of Nothing Chats. He confirmed with Nothing that, similar to how other iMessage-to-Android bridge services have worked before, “...it’s literally signing in on some Mac Mini in a server farm somewhere, and that Mac Mini will then do all of the routing for you to make this happen.”
Nothing’s US head of PR, Jane Nho, told The Verge in an email that Sunbird stores user iCloud credentials as a token “in an encrypted database” and associated with one of its Mac Minis in the US or Europe, depending on the user’s location, that then act as a relay for iMessages sent via the app. She added that, after two weeks of inactivity, Sunbird deletes the account information.
The Washington Post got to try out the feature and writes that Nothing Chats work “for the most part,” but you’ll miss out on some of the fancier features of iMessage, like the ability to edit messages, and Tapback reactions “don’t fully work yet.” The Post article said in the outlet’s testing, it sometimes had to send messages multiple times to get them through in group messages.
It also noted that group iMessages don’t work if someone in the thread isn’t on iMessage, which is to be expected. Nho confirmed that Nothing Chats supports SMS, however, so group SMS messaging should still work.
Nothing says users on the other end will see when you’re typing, just like in native iMessage, and you can share uncompressed media. (The Post said full-quality image sharing was “generally no problem.”) Read receipts and message reactions are planned for the future.
Normally, to access Sunbird, you have to get on a waitlist, but the Post writes that Sunbird CEO Danny Mizrahi said that “for the next few months the only way to get Sunbird is to have a Nothing Phone 2.” Beeper, another service that provides access to iMessage on Android and Windows devices, also has a six-figure-long waitlist.
It’s notable, too, that Nothing isn’t debuting this feature until Friday, maybe giving Apple time to put a stop to it, either through legal threats or technical means (though either could be challenging enough that the feature gets out before it can do so). Carl Pei, Nothing’s CEO, is quoted in the Post as saying the app isn’t “going to change the world,” but that he thinks it will “start a conversation.” The EU is currently investigating whether iMessage should be designated an Apple “core platform service.”
We have reached out to Apple for comment on Nothing’s plans and will update this article should Apple comment on the matter.
Update November 14th, 2023, 11:35AM ET: Added details from MKBHD.
Update November 14th, 2023, 12:10PM ET: Added details from Nothing US head of PR, Jane Nho.