Google says iMessage is too powerful

Please stop kicking our butts so badly β€” Google failed to compete with iMessage for years. Now it wants Apple to play nice. Ron Amadeo – Jan 11, 2022 12:11 am UTC Google took to Twitter this weekend to complain that iMessage is just too darn influential with today’s kids. The company was responding to…

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Google says iMessage is too powerful

Please stop kicking our butts so badly β€”

Google failed to compete with iMessage for years. Now it wants Apple to play nice.


After ruining Android messaging, Google says iMessage is too powerful

Google took to Twitter this weekend to complain that iMessage is just too darn influential with today’s kids. The company was responding to a Wall Street Journal report detailing the lock-in and social pressure Apple’s walled garden is creating among US teens. iMessage brands texts from iPhone users with a blue background and gives them additional features, while texts from Android phones are shown in green and only have the base SMS feature set. According to the article, “Teens and college students said they dread the ostracism that comes with a green text. The social pressure is palpable, with some reporting being ostracized or singled out after switching away from iPhones.” Google feels this is a problem.

“iMessage should not benefit from bullying,” the official Android Twitter account wrote. “Texting should bring us together, and the solution exists. Let’s fix this as one industry.” Google SVP Hiroshi Lockheimer chimed in, too, saying, “Apple’s iMessage lock-in is a documented strategy. Using peer pressure and bullying as a way to sell products is disingenuous for a company that has humanity and equity as a core part of its marketing. The standards exist today to fix this.”

The “solution” Google is pushing here is RCS, or Rich Communication Services, a GSMA standard from 2008 that has slowly gained traction as an upgrade to SMS. RCS adds typing indicators, user presence, and better image sharing to carrier messaging. It is a 14-year-old carrier standard, though, so it lacks many of the features you would want from a modern messaging service, like end-to-end encryption and support for non-phone devices. Google tries to band-aid over the aging standard with its “Google Messaging” client, but the result is a lot of clunky solutions that don’t add up to a good modern messaging service.

Since RCS replaces SMS, Google has been on a campaign to get the industry to make the upgrade. After years of protesting, the US carriers are all onboard, and there is some uptake among the international carriers, too. The biggest holdout is Apple, which only supports SMS through iMessage.

Apple's green-versus-blue bubble explainer from its website.

Enlarge / Apple’s green-versus-blue bubble explainer from its website.

Apple

Apple hasn’t ever publicly shot down the idea of adding RCS to iMessage, but thanks to documents revealed in the Epic v. Apple case, we know the company views iMessage lock-in as a valuable weapon. Bringing RCS to iMessage and making communication easier with Android users would only help to weaken Apple’s walled garden, and the company has said it doesn’t want that.

In the US, iPhones are more popular with young adults than ever. As The Wall Street Journal notes, “Among US consumers, 40% use iPhones, but among those aged 18 to 24, more than 70% are iPhone users.” It credits Apple’s lock-in with apps like iMessage for this success.

Reaping what you sow

Google clearly views iMessage’s popularity as a problem, and the company is hoping this public-shaming campaign will get Apple to change its mind on RCS. But Google giving other companies advice on a messaging strategy is a laughable idea since 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, it should try competing with it.

As we recently detailed in a 25,000-word article, Google’s messaging history is one of constant product startups and shutdowns. Thanks to a lack of product focus or any kind of top-down mandate from Google’s CEO, no division is really “in charge” of messaging. As a consequence, the company has released 13 half-hearted messaging products since iMessage launched in 2011. If Google wants to look to someone to blame forΒ iMessage’s dominance, it should start with itself, since it has continually sabotaged and abandoned its own plans to make an iMessage competitor.

Messaging is important, and even if it isn’t directly monetizable, a dominant messaging app has real, tangible benefits for an ecosystem. The rest of the industry understood this years ago. Facebook paid $22 billion to buy WhatsApp in 2014 and took the app from 450 million users to 2 billion users. Along with 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, is pulling in 1.2 billion users and yearly revenues of $5.5 billion. Snapchat is up to a $67 billion market cap, and Telegram is getting $40 billion valuations from investors. Google keeps trying ideas in this market, but it never makes an investment that is anywhere close to the competition.

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One thought on “Google says iMessage is too powerful

  1. Aditya avatar

    With all the lock-in and connectedness of Google owned systems, they cannot complain. And it's not Apple's fault that Google can't build long term successes in most products it creates. That's a management/strategy problem.

    How many messaging systems has Google had over the years?

    Their shotgun approach works financially, but it means that only a few of their projects really stick (win). The rest just trundle along until they get discontinued.

    The hypocricy is tiresome. When there's a regulation that threatens them, they make a lot of noise about "free market", and "let the market decide". But when the market decides against them, they want some government intervention.