Ask any Android user to name an Apple app that they’d like to have on their Galaxy or Pixel phone and the answer will almost universally be the same: iMessage. And the likely reason behind that answer? Green bubbles.
While Android users have no idea whether the person they’re texting with has an iPhone, Android, or a Windows Phone, Apple makes it very clear what device you and your friends are using. Messages from iPhone users are wrapped in serene blue bubbles while everyone else’s bubbles are colored in a garish green hue.
And we Android users would love for that to change. Not only are we tired of our iPhone-loving friends chiding us for ruining group messages, but we’d also like to see what all of the fuss is about. We’re still waiting for a do-it-all messaging app on Android, and an Apple client is certainly intriguing, especially for those of use still lamenting the loss of Allo. I’m willing to bet that if Apple were to release an iMessage Android client in the Play Store, it would quickly become one of the most downloaded messaging apps, challenging Google’s own Messages, WhatsApp and Signal, at least at launch.
It’s a nice dream, but it’s never going to happen. It doesn’t matter how many tweets, Medium posts, or op-eds are written about it, Apple is never going to release iMessage for anything that isn’t an Apple device.
Blue with envy
When Apple launched iMessage as part of iOS 5 in 2011, it was something like BlackBerry Messenger for iOS users. Apple described at as “a new messaging service that lets you easily send text messages, photos and videos between all iOS 5 users,” and it really was that simple: Turn it on and you could chat with your friends over Wi-Fi or cellular without going through your carrier. Messages arrived instantly, indicators showed when people were responding, and Read Receipts let you know when someone viewed your message.
Some eight years later, iMessage is arguably the most widely used messaging service in the world. It’s on Macs and Apple Watches, as well as hundreds of millions of iOS devices. Stickers and screen effects can spice up any conversation. And you can send audio messages as an animated pile of poo.
What hasn’t changed are those bright green bubbles. As iMessage has grown in popularity, the green bubbles have become more and more of a nuisance, so when an Android user joins a group conversation, it spoils the party for everyone, turning the whole group green and sullying the iMessage experience.
Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin shared an anecdote last week about a 16-year-old switcher who said he gave up his Pixel 2 specifically because of the green bubbles. As he explained, he was tired of being left out of group messages due to his green status. And it’s not just high-schoolers: According to the New York Post, it’s gotten so bad that some iPhone users won’t even consider dating someone that doesn’t text on blue bubbles.
Granted, that’s a small sample size and it’s just as easy to find people who aren’t so shallow, but if there’s one takeaway, it’s that people do care about their status. That’s not an accident. Apple differentiates iMessages from SMS messages with such starkly different colors for a reason: to show which of your friends have the good taste to buy an Apple device.
The numbers don’t add up
If inclusion in a special blue-bubble club isn’t reason enough for Apple to keep iMessage locked to iOS, then consider the calculus of it: Apple made more than $30 billion selling iOS devices last quarter alone as well as another $11.5 billion in services, the vast majority of which are tied to those very Apple devices.
Granted, an iMessage app for Android would almost certainly be a paid service, but the numbers still don’t add up. Even if Apple could successfully charge $10 a month for an cross-platform iMessage service—no small feat when WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Android Messages are all free—it would need to wrack up serious numbers to offset the inevitable loss of iPhone users.
Some quick math: if 10,000,000 people sign up for iMessage at $10 a month, that would bring in $300 million per quarter. Assuming an average selling price of roughly $750, that’s equivalent to about 400,000 iPhones, or less than one percent of quarterly sales. So if iPhone sales drop by more than one percent following the launch of iMessage for Android—a pretty likely consequence based on the anecdotes above—then Apple would actually be losing money.
The Apple Music experiment
But even if you want to overlook the lock-in and the profit and still hold out hope that Apple will shock the world and unveil an iMessage app for Android one day, there’s one more reason why it’ll never happen: Apple Music.
Now you might take Apple Music’s existence on Android as a reason why Apple would develop iMessage for Android, but I see it differently. Apple Music for Android has somewhere between 10 million and 50 million downloads, which seems like a pretty big number. But when you consider that Deezer and YouTube Music have more than 100 million downloads apiece and Spotify has topped 500 million downloads on its own, it gives Apple Music’s popularity a bit more perspective. Plus, it only has a three-and-a-half star rating.
Of course, Apple Music isn’t iMessage, but it stands to reason that Apple apps just aren’t all that popular on Android. Apple would be giving up one of the iPhone’s biggest advantages and likely losing money for an app that would probably lag behind its peers in the Play Store. And while Android could certainly use a messaging service like Apple’s that actually works, there’s no guarantee that it would be as seamless and instantaneous on Android phones as it is on Apple’s devices. Features would be undoubtedly be held back, updates would be slow to arrive, and ultimately it probably wouldn’t be any better than Allo or any of the other messaging app that came and went—except to keep your iPhone friends’ chats blue.
I think it’s safe to say that Apple’s iMessage will stay locked to iOS for As long as the iPhone is a thing Apple sells. Even if the app is annoyingly colored in Android green.
Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.