Recent news about division stemming from Apple’s iMessage app caught my attention this week. There’s a general notion that Apple discriminates against Google, or that iPhone discriminates against Android; I’ve got some thoughts on that. This is about the long-standing difference between iMessage texts, which are blue, and standard SMS/MMS texts, which are green.
Here’s one of a few articles (this one’s from The Verge) written lately on the subject:
Google says Apple ‘should not benefit from bullying’ created by iMessage lock-in
“Blue bubble envy is real”
James Vincent - The Verge
I talked about this topic before, here and here. Now I’ve got more to say.
While it would be nice if everyone used the same standard or system of communication, such an ideal, for various reasons, simply doesn’t exist. In practical daily living, there’s really just one downside to the blue versus green texting dichotomy that affects me: group texts.
In a group chat, there is typically one chat or group of people texting unless one of the texts is SMS rather than iMessage. In that case, it causes multiple separated chats to appear in a list despite them belonging to the same group text. In effect, it ungroups the group chat. Not cool. At best, this is a minor inconvenience, and at worst, it can cause mild confusion. Such confusion hinders communication in a medium where context is typically lacking and thus limited in the first place.
That said, the blue/green texting dichotomy isn’t that big of a deal. While it creates a difference, it doesn’t necessarily cause division.
Of course, it’s generally good to remove or reduce barriers to communication. But it’s also good to remember that reality isn’t always optimized to match what’s ideal. So it’s normal for people to adapt to things — make them work — when those things don’t necessarily adapt to people. And when feasible, people strive to make reality as ideal as possible. In this case, it’d be cool if somehow Apple and Google or others managed to unify on a texting standard.
There’s another related problem, though, that is unlikely to be solved even if Apple and Google miraculously settle on an agreed texting paradigm.
While friends and family text my phone number to stay in touch, they’re not consistent. Sometimes they message me through another service like Facebook Messenger instead — that doesn’t get a bubble in iMessage at all. Besides text messaging, people chat through Signal, WhatsApp, and others. Everyone uses different platforms and services to communicate — at least we speak the same language. These separate ways to chat are not ideal, but we deal with it, and we don’t have to divide over it. That said, if such chatting can be simplified or unified, I think life might be a little more convenient.
I’ve been on both sides of the fence more than once when it comes to texting. I can’t ask everyone on Android to switch to iPhone any more than I could ask everyone on iPhone to switch to Android. If Apple does not adopt RCS into iMessage or doesn’t open iMessage up to Android, I think blue and green bubbles are here to stay. Would it help if Apple made them all the same color, say purple? I doubt it.
With different texting standards, texting just isn’t standardized. This is inconvenient, but it needs not be divisive — don’t let it burst your bubble no matter the color. Like agreeing to disagree, we can at least agree that differentiation (tech diversity) and competition are good things overall, though that isn’t the best consolation for broken group chats.