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It might seem bizarre to anyone not entrenched in the debate, but some people really care about the color of your chat bubble. Maybe you haven’t thought about it. You may have an iPhone, and notice the people you text occasionally have a green bubble instead of a blue one. If you have an Android, however, chances are you’ve had at least someone in your life complain about texting you.

While some do care solely about the aesthetics of their texting, it’s not really about “green vs. blue”; rather, it’s about the negative iOS messaging experience that greets those green bubble users—aka anyone with an Android device.

When an iPhone texts an iPhone, they use iMessage, which offers modern chat features like typing indicators (that bubble with the three dots when someone is crafting their message), high-quality photos and videos, location sharing, and properly functioning group chats. When an iPhone messages an Android, however, they use SMS, an outdated messaging protocol that’s been around since at least 1995. In addition to the color of the bubble changing, your photos and videos drop drastically in quality, group chats go berserk, and, worst of all, there’s no end-to-end encryption, so it’s less secure.

This, of course, is not the fault of Android users, nor is it a fault of Android OS. As much as I enjoy the Apple ecosystem, this one’s squarely on Apple’s shoulders: Instead of forcing us to use SMS when texting Android devices, Apple could’ve simply adopted RCS, a more modern messaging protocol that includes many of the features iPhone users have come to expect from iMessage. Android devices using RCS already can access high-quality media, functioning group chats, and end-to-end encryption. Why can’t iPhones? Because Apple doesn’t want them to.

Apple could also allow users to change their default messaging app to something like WhatsApp or Telegram, a setting that is not currently available on iOS. Not only would this open up competition for iMessage, Apple would need to allow third-party messaging apps to send and receive carrier messages, so users wouldn’t have to go through the Messages app for any message sent directly to their phone number. I don’t feel so strongly about this one, but the United States government does.

The DOJ is not happy about any of this bubble business

It’s not just an issue for consumers anymore: As part of its larger lawsuit against Apple, the U.S. Department of Justice is blasting the company’s messaging policies as anticompetitive behavior. The DOJ claims Apple intentionally makes messaging non-Apple devices a worse overall experience in order to persuade customers to purchase an iPhone.

Here’s the excerpt from the lawsuit that explains it in a nutshell:

For example, if an iPhone user
messages a non-iPhone user in Apple Messages—the default messaging app on an iPhone—then
the text appears to the iPhone user as a green bubble and incorporates limited functionality: the
conversation is not encrypted, videos are pixelated and grainy, and users cannot edit messages or
see typing indicators. This signals to users that rival smartphones are lower quality because the
experience of messaging friends and family who do not own iPhones is worse—even though
Apple, not the rival smartphone, is the cause of that degraded user experience.

Green bubbles are officially an issue for the U.S. government.

Not only does the DOJ call out Apple for making messaging worse outside of the Apple ecosystem, they also point to the social stigma the experiences causes among certain demographics, particularly younger users:

Many non-iPhone
users also experience social stigma, exclusion, and blame for “breaking” chats where other
participants own iPhones. This effect is particularly powerful for certain demographics, like
teenagers—where the iPhone’s share is 85 percent, according to one survey. This social pressure
reinforces switching costs and drives users to continue buying iPhones—solidifying Apple’s
smartphone dominance not because Apple has made its smartphone better, but because it has
made communicating with other smartphones worse.

Mic drop.

The DOJ has the quotes to back up its assessments, too: They highlight a March 2016 email forwarded to CEO Tim Cook from Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing that said, “Moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us.” The more damning quote though—at least in my opinion—came from a Q&A in 2022. Someone questioning Cook said, “It’s tough…not to make it personal, but I can’t send my mom certain videos.” Apple’s CEO responded with, “Buy your mom an iPhone.” Ouch.

Things will be changing soon

Even before the DOJ set its sights on Apple, change was in the air. Back in November, the company announced it would bring RCS to iPhones, finally bridging the gap between platforms. If Google is to be believed, RCS support will launch in fall of this year, perhaps as part of iOS 18.

Once Apple supports RCS, messaging an Android device won’t feel much different than messaging an iPhone. Sure, you won’t be able to initiate a FaceTime call as easily (although there is a workaround to FaceTime an Android user), but you’ll be able to send high-quality pictures and videos, create group chats that don’t suck, and trust that your messages are protected by the same end-to-end encryption you expect from iMessage. (SMS is wildly insecure, people.)

By the time the courts hear this case, the DOJ’s arguments about green bubbles may be largely irrelevant—and that’s a good thing for all of us. They’ll still be able to hit Apple over restricting third-party messaging apps on iOS, not to mention the rest of the charges in the 88-page lawsuit, but they won’t be able to say that Apple purposefully makes texting an Android a significantly worse and less secure experience. I fully expect Apple to continue to make it as clear as possible when you are messaging something other than an iPhone user (green bubbles are probably here to stay), but so long as RCS functions as it should, I don’t imagine it will be a huge deal.

My larger hope is that these changes will also reduce any stigma that comes with being a “green bubble” user. You would think that once texting becomes largely the same whether you’re using iMessage or RCS, people might drop the whole thing. But there are a lot of people out there that have a negative bias towards green bubbles, and they might not be so quick to change.

The DOJ may still have a case on this point if people don’t adjust their views once RCS hits the scene. However, hopefully the rest of us—and those new users just starting to message for the first time—won’t care what color our messaging bubbles are, so long as it just works.

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