Apple says iMessage on Android ‘will hurt us more than help us’

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Apple knows that iMessage’s blue bubbles are a big barrier to people switching to Android, which is why the service has never appeared on Google’s mobile operating system. That’s according to depositions and emails from Apple employees, including some high-ranking executives, revealed in a court filing from Epic Games as part of its legal dispute with the iPhone manufacturer.

Epic argues that Apple consciously tries to lock customers into its ecosystem of devices, and that iMessage is one of the key services helping it to do so. It cites comments made by Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue, senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi, and Apple Fellow Phil Schiller to support its argument.

“The #1 most difficult [reason] to leave the Apple universe app is iMessage ... iMessage amounts to serious lock-in,” was how one unnamed former Apple employee put it in an email in 2016, prompting Schiller to respond that, “moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us, this email illustrates why.”

“iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones,” was Federighi’s concern according to the Epic filing. Although workarounds to using iMessage on Android have emerged over the years, none have been particularly convenient or reliable.

According to Epic’s filing, citing Eddy Cue, Apple decided not to develop iMessage for Android as early as 2013, following the launch of the messaging service with iOS 5 in 2011. Cue admits that Apple “could have made a version on Android that worked with iOS” so that “users of both platforms would have been able to exchange messages with one another seamlessly.” Evidently, such a version was never developed.

Along with iMessage, Epic cites a series of other Apple services that it argues contribute to lock-in. Notably, these include its video chat service FaceTime, which Steve Jobs announced would be an open industry standard back at WWDC 2010. FaceTime subsequently released across iPhones, iPads, and Macs, but it’s not officially available for any non-Apple devices.

Comments

Not that anyone should have any doubts by now over the type of company Apple is but personally seeing this kind of evidence is extremely gratifying. Just maybe those that hold Apple in such high regard can see this and finally have their eyes open to who they really are as a company.

Yea, but it’s highly unlikely that TeamApple would reduce the height of the pedestal they put Apple on.

I still hold Apple in a very high regard. But it’s a company with a single goal – to be profitable. The fact that it makes my life more convenient with its devices is just a side effect which I’m perfectly OK with.

Other companies do the same you just choose to not even look at them.

Example: you probably don’t use any NFC trackers but soon Apple will release one and you’ll convince yourself that you suddenly need one and you’ll rush out to buy Apple’s not because they’re better but because it’s Apple’s

If you needed a smart speaker, you would choose home pod over Alexa even though home pod is vastly inferior.

Same is true for your digital assistant. I’m sure you use siri over Google Assistant even though Google’s is available to you and vastly superior.

Whose maps you use? Apple or Google?

I’m sure there are people like who you describe but you’re painting with a very broad brush here. To counter with my personal usage:

  • I’ve used Tile for many years but I’ve gotten frustrated with the non-replaceable battery (they since released some with replaceable batteries). I’m waiting to see what Apple does in this space but I do like the idea of using the Find My app for everything. Let’s see if Tile will integrate with it.
  • I’ve had an Alexa for ~3 years before I switched to a HomePod

Your remaining points are weird. Sure, Google Assistant is technically available to me (as an app) it doesn’t even support my (non-Google) Calendar. Nor is it available with voice activation on any of my devices. All the assistants are really limited to whose phone you’re using.

As for Maps, I use both. Some things are better in one, some in the other. Where I do use Apple Maps a lot is on my Mac – the native app is just a treat.

Most of the reasons you give for not consider alternatives are because of Apple restrictions. See the antitrust case here?

Absolutely. But JonGarrett’s comment was about Apple creating demand in categories because Apple-fans would only consider certain products if they came from Apple. That’s a point completely unrelated to antitrust.

As for anti-trust, I suspect not much is going come out of it. US antitrust law seems to focus a lot at customer harm and not look much at the harm to other parts of the economy (in this case app or device vendors). Maybe in Europe more will come out of it.

Not sure if you understood the comment: Apple intentionally hamstrings its APIs so that third party apps on iOS are physically unable to compete on the same level as Apple’s native apps. This ensures that other companies appear to be "inferior" to Apple, when in reality they’re doing the best with what scraps Apple allows them to have.

But those are restrictions I am aware of and still choose to buy the product because of the other benefits I value. I also accept in buying a PS5 there are games not available on it that Microsoft makes, when I shop at Whole Foods there are certain products they choose not to allow in their store, but I have just that … choice.

The issue isn’t whether you can choose to shop from companies that limit your choices. The issue is if it is ‘right’ (fair, legal, whatever) for a company to limit your choice.

Maybe your issue with it, but when a company creates the platform, and doesn’t reactively change how that works to the detriment of customers that is different. There have never been other ways to get apps on iPhone than the App Store, Apple never sold phone you could. They are not limiting your choice in phones, they are choosing how their phones should work, which as it is their business and they do not hold the majority of access to phones as is their right. Target doesn’t have to change its business to carry a certain brand just because there are other grocery stores to choose from because consumers can bring their money elsewhere and if it becomes a big enough to convince them to change their storefront they will.

They aren’t limiting your choice, you don’t need to buy an iPhone.

Not the same, if I buy some flour at Whole Foods, I can use it with eggs I bought at Safeway. If I buy an iPhone, I can only use it with purchases that Apple gets a 30% cut. The same problem exists with PS5, that others do the same thing doesn’t mean it’s not limiting my choice as a consumer.

How is comparing groceries to digital purposes a useful analogy?

I can use the iPhone i purchased from Apple with the Sonos Beam I purchased from Best Buy just fine.

There’s a big difference between "company wants you to stay within their ecosystem" and a viable antitrust suit. The suit here isn’t an antitrust suit, it’s alleging unfair business practices, so no I do not see an antitrust case here.

Which is what anti-trust covers. You can’t intentionally prevent fair competition, which is what they are doing here.

Hmm, I just don’t really see this as anti competitive in a legal sense or even bad business. I would love to use a S21 Ultra with iMessage. But I use an iPhone instead because iMessage is my most used app. It’s not Apple’s responsibility to fix Android’s shitty, disjointed messaging platform, it’s Google’s. They have enormous resources and the muscle to implement real solutions to this problem and they’ve dragged their feet for over a decade because they cared more about market share than cohesive user experience.

This would be like suggesting that GM has to give Ford access to their Ultium battery tech because otherwise they aren’t being fair. Of course they aren’t. It’s business.

Don’t confuse a popular product entering a new category with an innovative product and its difficulty in succeeding in the market longer-term as a matter of antitrust. Products enter the market and fail, because they lack the resources to compete, not the specific actions of Apple or any other company.

Many products enter with an interesting new product like, Tile, but the product is not mainstream in its initial incarnations. They sell quite a few units to early adopters and then a company like Apple enters the market and takes it mainstream with deep pockets, in-house development resources and the knowledge gained from the early entrants in the field. They sell a lot of units – because most people have never purchased a product like (in this example) Tile, not poaching existing customers.

If you look at the wireless headphone space – companies had years to make a decent pair of wireless headphones. Never happened. Apple crushes it with AirPods. This is not a product that a startup could have made, because Apple had to invent new technology to make it mainstream.

Now of course if you just dislike Apple on principle you can argue if developers had the mythical god access they would have made the GOAT product, but really, small companies will always struggle against large companies with deep pockets if they don’t manage to make a mainstream hit before the large companies enter the space.

Things like google assistant are because APPLE won’t let them do those features on an iphone. Its because they don’t want the competition.

You mean like the competition Apple gets from the Android phones that outnumber iOS 4 to 1?

You just proved his point.

You said you use Tile, but you are waiting to see what Apple does.

You used Alexa for 3 years, but switched to homepod.

Once apple jumped in the game. You consciously made a decision to switch to the apple product. Simply because it’s apple, even though better alternatives exist.

Tile is definitely not a great product – never was. The replaceable battery is an improvement in some ways but now the battery tends to die right about the time I need it.

I’ve owned several wireless headphones before AirPods were the first wireless product that didn’t suck.

I’m not waiting for Apple to make a better product, but I will consider their offering if they seem to have something in a space where the existing products are merely passable or worse, frustrating.

Apple user here
-I don’t need NFC trackers given the WFH situation
-I replaced my Echo Plus and Echo Dot with a HomePod and HomePod mini because they sound better and have AirPlay
-I choose Siri over Google assistant because I have HomePods
-I use Google Maps

Interesting. I went with an Echo Dot and $100 speakers. It sounds far better than any smart speaker. I’d prefer to switch to a Homekit mini for privacy reasons, even though it’s >3x more expensive and less functional. But as with the full-sized Homekit, it lacks a headphone jack. And as with all Apple products, it lacks a respectable Bluetooth codec.

The more I think about it, the more annoying it is that a company can so heavily dictate what you can and can’t do on their device. The digital world is weird. A car company couldn’t prevent you from installing a better sound system in your car, but that’s exactly what the current phone ecosystem does.

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