Why doesn’t Apple bring iMessage to Android?

It’s called a strategy tax*: Bad for customers, good for the company’s long-term goals.

From Joanna Stern’s Ugh, Green Bubbles! Apple’s iMessage Makes Switching to Android Hard in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal ($)

For the last week I have been living with the Google Pixel 3, and I can tell you how great a phone it is, but what I really want to tell is that Apple has erected some high walls around its iPhone users. Between that and the fact many Americans do love the Apple ecosystem, few try to leave the fortress… The biggest barrier… comes in the shape of a big green bubble.

Stern details all the ways leaving iMessage can screw you up, from hours of switching time to photos of your niece’s Halloween costume lost in the ether. She offers three ways Apple can fix it, but only one of them cuts through the thicket:

Bring iMessage to Android. This is the dream. Sure, it would make switching to Android easier, but here’s a business argument, Apple: Your loyal customers will be happier when messaging Android friends.

*A strategy tax is anything that makes a product less likely to succeed, yet is included to further larger corporate goals —Ben Thompson, Stratechery

My take: As Stern reminds us, Apple invented iMessage because SMS—plain old text messaging—sucks. Remember what happed when Steve Jobs was persuaded to put iTunes on Windows? Imagine how far iMessage could fly if Tim Cook set it free.

14 Comments

  1. Richard Wanderman said:

    I agree with Joe except that as PED says, the history of iTunes is meaningful here but it’s tough to see how. iTunes for Windows and getting all those Windows users to buy iPods was huge for Apple. How might Messages do something similar for Android users?

    Apple Cash and other services built into Messages.

    As Apple Cash catches on Apple is going to make a lot of money from the float: you need to keep money in your Apple Cash account, as apposed to Square cash which pulls it directly out of a debt card.

    The more people keeping $50 in their Apple Cash accounts, the more money Apple will make holding that money.

    So, Messages for Android makes sense if it comes with services that make Apple some money.

    Without extra services I’m with Joe, it’s a great app, unique to the Apple ecosystem that might pull a few Android users over.

    Note: the application is called “Messages.” iMessage was dropped a while back.

    0
    October 21, 2018
  2. Robert Paul Leitao said:

    In my view, the success of iMessage as a strategic and competitive advantage for Apple is an unintended and positive outcome of the inability and unwillingness of carriers to adopt the technology when it was first offered by Apple.

    I use iMessage extensively for both personal and work correspondence. iMessage is among the most conspicuous benefits for non-iPhone owners to make the switch from whatever phone device they might be using to Apple’s mobile platform.

    I actually wince when I see the green bubble in correspondence and, when appropriate, make comment to the recipient about the advantages of iMessage and Apple’s mobile platform.

    I see no reason for Apple to port iMessage to the other major mobile platform. By most metrics, and especially for those that value effective communication tools for business and personal communication, it’s a fading platform.

    There’s a huge difference between porting iMessage to that other platform and the release of iTunes for Windows. iTunes was a commercial platform for the sale of iPods and music. It was arguably the most successful 3rd-party Windows app ever written. It essentially made Windows irrelevant as an operating system for the purpose of driving iPod sales and commercial music distribution. At the time, Apple had a small fraction of the PC market and porting iTunes to Windows drove iPod sales. Porting iMessage would be an enabling action that would allow users of the other major mobile platform to continue down the path of errant and erroneous purchase decisions.

    Green bubbles, as onerous as they are to the sender, create an opportunity of sorts for an “intervention” or at least a conversation with the recipient about their choice of mobile technology tools. I’d rather email a “green bubble” device user than communicate with them via text message. I’m apt to let them know that.

    3
    October 21, 2018
    • Gianfranco Pedron said:

      “Green bubbles, as onerous as they are to the sender, create an opportunity of sorts for an “intervention” or at least a conversation with the recipient about their choice of mobile technology tools”

      Wonderfully candid. I love it. 🙂 🙂

      0
      October 21, 2018
  3. Gregg Thurman said:

    I’m with you Robert.

    Few remember that the computing platform of choice when the iPod was introduced was the Windows desktop. Not only did porting iTunes to Windows enable iPod sales, it also made possible far greater adoption of iPhone and iPad, both of which cast a large umbrella over desktop/laptop conversions to MacOS.

    Porting Messages to any other platform (Android Mobile/Windows desktop) would not benefit Apple hardware sales in the least bit.

    I can count my Android using friends on one hand. iOS friends require all of my fingers and toes. Because of the demographic of iOS users I’ll venture that the same holds true for most iOS users.

    Port Messahes to Android? There’s no point.

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    October 21, 2018
  4. Peter Kropf said:

    So here’s a question for anyone with security smarts…

    Is it even possible for Apple to run a protected and secure Messages app on Android? Do any Android models have a secure enclave – hw encrypted device seed (prime number)?

    If so, how big is the market share for these theoretically secure Android platforms?

    3
    October 21, 2018
    • Fred Stein said:

      Thanks Peter. A great example of why a good question is better than off-the-cuff answers. Going further, is iMessage exclusivity at strategy tax or an artifact of Apple’s insistence to keep their products secure and private. That very hard to achieve with an open, jail-breakable and highly fragmented environment like Android. Happy to hear a counter argument.

      1
      October 21, 2018
  5. John Kirk said:

    “*A strategy tax is anything that makes a product less likely to succeed, yet is included to further larger corporate goals —Ben Thompson, Stratechery”

    I understand what a Strategy Tax is, but I don’t agree that this is a strategy tax.

    QUESTION: In what way does keeping messages an Apple only product make it less likely for Apple to succeed?

    ANSWER: (crickets).

    Messages make it LESS likely that someone will leave Apple’s ecosystem and MORE likely that it will entice others to move onto Apple’s ecosystem. Further, it’s good for Apple customers.

    How is that a tax?

    1
    October 21, 2018
  6. “QUESTION: In what way does keeping messages an Apple only product make it less likely for Apple to succeed?”

    Wrong question, as least as I understand Thompson. The product here is iMessage (or rather, Messages), not Apple. Messages would be hugely more successful as a product if it were on all devices, not just Apple’s.

    But it serves Apple’s corporate strategic purposes that Messages is not on Android. That’s the tax.

    0
    October 21, 2018
    • Gregg Thurman said:

      “Messages would be hugely more successful as a product if it were on all devices, not just Apple’s.”

      Define “success”.

      Is it the greatest number of users?

      Or is the most revenue/profits generated?

      Messages does not generate direct revenue and Apple isn’t concerned with total user numbers on a non-revenue generating product.

      The point of Messages is to make the iPhone user experience superior to that of the competition. Porting Messages to Android would make Apple’s better user experience to Android. Now how does that benefit Apple?

      1
      October 21, 2018
    • David Emery said:

      A “tax” to me at least implies a “taking away.” And I just don’t see that term as being applicable to this situation. I guess you could argue the ‘taking away’ is the opportunity to get Android users to adopt Apple Messages.

      Without reading the Stratechery article, I think Thompson got the metaphor wrong.

      0
      October 22, 2018
    • John Kirk said:

      “The product here is iMessage (or rather, Messages), not Apple.”

      Apple isn’t selling messages. They’re selling phones, services, and ecosystem. If you can show me how restricting Messages to Apple products hurts any of those three things then I might agree with you that it’s a “tax”.

      Now if Apple was, say, successfully selling Messages as a service, then I think that might fall into the category of tax that you’re addressing.

      Heck, maybe I’m wrong. I’ve been wrong before. 🙂

      1
      October 22, 2018
  7. Peter Kropf said:

    Do we believe that Messages’ Android security would not damage or lessen iOS Messages security?

    If not, why are we discussing the possibility of Messages on Android?

    Lowered or damaged Messages security = Fail.

    0
    October 22, 2018

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