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On Saturday, Android boss Hiroshi Lockheimer accused Apple of “using peer pressure and bullying as a way to sell products,” after a Wall Street Journal report revealed how US teens have turned Apple’s iMessage into a social status symbol that locks Android users out.
Now, Lockheimer is taking a slightly less abrasive stance: the Google executive said Monday that “we’re not asking Apple to make iMessage available on Android. We’re asking Apple to support the industry standard for modern messaging (RCS) in iMessage, just as they support the older SMS / MMS standards.”
“By not incorporating RCS, Apple is holding back the industry and holding back the user experience for not only Android users but also their own customers,” adds Lockheimer, later in the Twitter thread.
That’s still a big accusation, but one that pulls the conversation back into familiar territory: will Apple accept Google’s olive branch to make iMessage more compatible with Android, or will it continue to use lock-in to sell more iPhones?
On the lock-in front, there’s little question about Apple’s motivation. Thanks to the Epic v. Apple trial, the world has now seen confidential emails between Apple executives that show the company is intentionally withholding iMessage in favor of lock-in. “I am concerned the iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove an obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones,” wrote Apple exec Craig Federighi in April 2013, adding “I think we need to get Android customers using and dependent on Apple products.”
“Joz and I think moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us, this email illustrates why,” wrote Apple’s Phil Schiller in March 2016, forwarding an email from Beats Music co-founder Ian Rogers about how he “missed a ton of messages from friends and family” after switching to an Android phone.
What’s less clear is whether RCS, the next-gen replacement for SMS that’s championed by Google and incorporates popular features common to iMessage, has any convincing reason for Apple to sign on. That’s likely why Google is creating a little peer pressure of its own.
The Verge has asked Apple if it intends to support RCS literally years with no comment, so we’re not holding our breath. We’ve also made the moral case that a company that claims privacy is a human right has a duty to bring encrypted messaging to the world, not just its own customers, and we’ve written about the personal plight of dealing with Apple’s inaction. (And when I say “we”, I mean Dieter, because RCS is his jam, I’m writing this post because he’s on vacation, and Dieter srsly why are you reading these words, aren’t you supposed to be on a socially distanced beach somewhere?)
But maybe now that Apple is basically a three-trillion dollar company, and it’s under loads of regulatory scrutiny, and its dirty laundry (in the form of emails) has been aired in front of the world, and its employees are speaking out, and pieces like the WSJ’s are coming out, and its CEO Tim Cook is likely looking for a legacy larger than simply scaling up the company to become the most valuable in the world with a fat pay package as the reward... perhaps bringing iMessage to Android or RCS to iMessage is the kind of small concession that Apple might actually make.
Correction, 7:48PM ET: Dieter informs me Apple did actually reply to our requests for comment on RCS. Their reply was “No comment.” I regret the error.