Apple, the ‘green bubble’ bully

Recently, the Twitter handle of Android (the mobile operating system that belongs to Google) tweeted, “iMessage should not benefit from bullying”.

Apple’s iMessage? Bullying?

The tweet was a quote-tweet over Hiroshi Lockheimer’s (SVP at Google) tweet where he said, “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”!

He had quote-tweeted this over a January 8th Wall Street Journal story titled, “Apple’s Blue Bubble Empire”!

As someone who has never used an iPhone (by choice) but has always used a Mac (again, by choice), I have never used iMessage as well. Plus, in India, text messages have largely been replaced by WhatsApp, so much that we don’t even use the word ‘sms’ or ‘text message anymore and simply say, ‘WhatsApp me’. And WhatsApp works on every smartphone the same way with the same set of features.

So I had some difficulty in even understanding the context of this bullying allegation.

The huge WSJ article is helpful in that direction.

Relevant excerpt from the WSJ article

Suffice to say that this hatred towards ‘green bubbles’, and the people who send them, is a pretty widespread phenomenon.

Can’t Apple do something about this?

After all, it is making Apple iPhone users mean, rude, and nasty over something as trivial as the color of messages. I don’t know much about the technical aspects, but on a quick read online, I gather the meaning behind Hiroshi’s ‘The standards exist today to fix this’ quip. It seems Apple needs to incorporate something called Rich Communication Services (RCS), a communications protocol. There’s a lot more to this, of course, technically, in terms of why Apple doesn’t support it yet and why Google adopted it recently, and so on.

But I have limited interest in the technical aspects since my domain is not technical ‘communications’ and just human ‘communications’ 🙂 From that perspective, what I found startling was that Apple fanned a lot of this hatred towards ‘them green bubbles’ (and by design, towards people who don’t have an iPhone, and hence, iMessage’)!

Take a look at the 2014 ‘Messages’ web page of Apple.

“iMessages are blue. So you are not: On iPhone, when your text bubble is blue instead of green, you’ll know you’re using iMessage instead of SMS. SMS texters will be green with envy.”

An early 2013 version of the page had the title of this section as, ‘Blue is best’ and the same body copy!

Seriously, Apple?

No, this is not unintentional or product/feature-centric gloating. There is a clear indication that Apple is trying to make the ‘green bubbles’ seem uncool, and by extension, building a social ringfence around blue messages’ superiority.

Take a look at this 2014 Apple WWDC video. Here’s what Craig Federighi, SVP software engineering at Apple, said at 37:20: “Now, we all love iMessage. We can continue our conversations seamlessly from device to device but then we have these green bubble friends. And, you know, they have inferior devices and they insist on sending us messages…”. (the video below starts playing from 37:20)

Craig doesn’t even bother isolating a UI decision and the people who use the device that offers a particular UI design. He goes straight for, ‘these green bubble friends… have inferior devices’!

Without going into the technical reasons behind these UI decisions and the choice of communications protocols, it seems to me that Apple is reveling in this distinction created between iPhone users and non-iPhone users. It’s one thing for people/users to create such divisions among themselves, but it is entirely something else for a company to fan these divisions at the level of an SVP. That’s definitely a very smug and arrogant move completely uncharacteristic of a company of Apple’s stature (one of the most valuable companies in the world).

From a corporate communications point of view, I hope the WSJ article leads Apple to have a conversation about this internally and how their own arrogant narratives have helped fan these divisions for no mistake of end-users other than not choosing their prized phones.

PS: All this ‘green message’ vs. ‘blue message’ imbroglio is restricted to the USA where Apple has a monumental dominance. This issue hardly merits any attention outside the US since the rest of the world largely uses WhatsApp, among other messaging services, besides text messaging.

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