Google took to Twitter this weekend to complain that iMessage is too influential with today’s kids. The company was responding to a Wall Street Journal report detailing the lockdown and social pressure that Apple’s walled garden is creating among American teens. iMessage brands texts from iPhone users with a blue background and gives them extra features, while texts from Android phones are green branded and only have the basic texting feature set. According to the article, “Teens and college students said they fear ostracism that comes with green text. The social pressure is evident, with some reporting that they have been ostracized or discriminated against after moving away from their iPhones.” Google seems to feel this is a problem.
“iMessage should not profit from bullying,” the official Twitter Android Account books. “Texting has got to bring us together, and the solution is there. Let’s fix this as one industry.” Google SVP Hiroshi Lockheimer He also chimed in, saying, “Apple’s iMessage lockout is a documented strategy. Using peer pressure and bullying as a way to sell products is disingenuous for a company that has humanity and equality as an essential part of its marketing. Standards are in place today to fix this.”
The “solution” Google is proposing here is RCS, or Rich Communication Services, the GSMA standard from 2008 that is slowly gaining traction as an upgrade to SMS. Remote Control System (RCS) adds typing indicators, user presence, and better image sharing to carrier messages. It’s a 14-year-old carrier standard, so it lacks many things you’d want from a modern messaging service, like end-to-end encryption and support for non-telephone devices. Google is trying to help bypass the old standard with its Google Messaging client, but the result is a lot of outdated solutions that aren’t quite as good as the modern messaging service.
Since RCS replaced SMS, Google has been on a campaign to get the industry to upgrade. After years of protest, all US airlines are on board, and there is some appetite among international airlines as well. The biggest hindrance is Apple, which only supports SMS via iMessage.
Apple never publicly dropped the idea of adding RCS to iMessage, but thanks to documents revealed in epic vs apple We know that the company views the iMessage lock as a valuable weapon. Bringing RCS to iMessage and making it easier to communicate with Android users would only help weaken Apple’s walled garden, and the company has said it doesn’t want that.
In the United States, iPhones are more popular among young people than ever before. As the Wall Street Journal notes, “Among US consumers, 40% use iPhones, but among those 18-24 years old, more than 70% are iPhone users.” Apple is credited with locking apps like iMessage for this success.
You reap what you sow
Google clearly views iMessage’s popularity as a problem, and the company hopes this public disgrace campaign will prompt Apple to change its mind about RCS. Having Google advise other companies on messaging strategy is a laughable idea, given that Google probably has the least credibility of any tech company when it comes to messaging services. If the company really wants to do something about iMessage, they should try to compete with it.
As we detailed recently in a 25,000-word article, Google Message History is one of the processes of continuous product start-ups and shutdowns. Thanks to a lack of focus on the product or any kind of top-down delegation from the CEO of Google, there is no truly “responsible” department for messaging. As a result, the company has released 13 tepid messaging products since iMessage launched in 2011. If Google has anyone to blame for iMessage’s dominance, it should start itself, as it has been sabotaging and abandoning its own plans to create an iMessage competitor.
Messaging is important, and even if it can’t be monetized directly, the dominant messaging app has real and tangible benefits for an ecosystem. The rest of the industry understood this years ago. Facebook paid $22 billion to buy WhatsApp in 2014 and moved the app from 450 million users to 2 billion users. Besides Facebook Messenger, Facebook has two dominant messaging platforms today, especially internationally. Salesforce paid $27 billion for Slack in 2020, and Tencent’s WeChat, a Chinese messaging app, attracts 1.2 billion users and annual revenue of $5.5 billion. Snapchat has a market capitalization of $67 billion, and Telegram is getting $40 billion from investors. Google continues to experiment with ideas in this market, but it never makes an investment anywhere close to the competition.