Thursday , June 17 2021

iMessage for Android is the message solution we need, not what we want



This week I got a new Android phone by mail. I took out his plastic wrapper, opened it, unfolded the quick-mounted treadle on the screen, and turned it on. When I loaded it, I logged in to my Google Account, recovered from my Pixel 3 backup, and waited for the 80 applications I regularly use to recover some or all of my user data.

This is my routine procedure for getting a new phone and lets me get up and work thanks to Google Cloud Backup in about 30 minutes. This is an appealing and delightful taste of automation, but its usefulness is as good as the tempting, like the applications on my phone.

Android has plenty of messaging apps, but it's often too much to do.

The message is the most important experience for smartphones, and with the definition of "social networks" that expands and includes issues like YouTube, Twitch, Reddit and even Fortnite, smartphone communication is often disconnected and disappointing.

Everyone has a preferred means of communication, and although the ownership of many of these tools has been consolidating over the years – looking at you, Facebook – the choice has increased.

On Android phones, the message splash is not a secret, and Google does nothing to help with the problem by first releasing or changing its leading messaging tool every few months. Hello, good-bye.

The waterfall of choice is exacerbated by geographical divisions; WhatsApp is popular in much of Europe and South America, while WeChat is preferred in China, Kakao in South Korea and Line in Japan. Facebook Messenger has a huge built-in audience of Facebook users, but is usually considered the least resistance path, not the preferred option for hundreds of millions of users. And then there is iMessage, which is the default message platform (and widely regarded as a social networking) of Apple's devices, but its domination does not extend beyond North America.

However, iPhone users I love you iMessage and friendship reasons are not surprising: its seamless integration with plain text messaging means you do not have to open a separate application. Once Apple servers detect whether the recipient – by phone number or email address – is part of the iMessage database, it switches the bubbles from green to blue.

Google has been trying to compete with iMessage, directly and indirectly, for years. Hangouts and Allo failed as consumer products, so it works with GSMA – the standardization body and the carrier overlapping group – to introduce the RCS Univeral Profile on a number of devices. Applauding as Great Universe for messaging, RCS is based on traditional SMS in the same text application that comes with your phone.

Although it is now limited to several applications and media, the goal is for each operator's phone to support native RCS and to make something like iMessage for Android unnecessary.

Except for one: end-to-end encryption. Verge's Dieter Bonn argued earlier this year that he had a "moral case for iMessage on Android," noting that while there are not many business cases for Apple to introduce iMessage on Android, there is one who likes the better.

Every time I hear that Tim Cook speaks about privacy as a human right, I think about the greatest thing his company can do to ensure privacy: spreading the ability of people to have talks that are safe from government tapping around the world. And the biggest and most effective way Apple can do is release iMessage on Android.

RCS carries most of the features we take for granted in almost every messenger – support for longer calls, high-quality images and video, scalable group conversations, file transfer, and more – to the Android user's own SMS application. Like iMessage, when two devices "get shaken", all of these features are triggered automatically. In practice, the experience is quite similar to iMessage, with one important difference: RCS does not support end-to-end encryption.

Services such as iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, and with some settings, Telegram and Facebook Messenger, encrypt communications between the sender and the recipient so there is no interception or monitoring capability. While governments increasingly deny the use of encryption while trying to prevent terrorism, it is considered to be equally necessary for users who want to maintain similarity of control over their privacy on the Internet.

And while WhatsApp is bigger than iMessage, Facebook's superiority to the service and its inevitable integration with Messenger and Instagram have paused many users. Other options, such as Signal, are more extensible but more difficult to use, and like WhatsApp is not synced to multiple devices.

Which brings us back to iMessage. A small but vocal set of people continues to claim that Apple has to bring iMessage to Android. Like six months ago, the idea would be absurd – the company's finances did not justify such a request from the other side. But lately, when the iPhone train slows down and the company is increasingly focusing on service revenues, it has to be argued that enough Android users subscribing to iMessage worth $ 5 or $ 10 a month will make the investment useful. Or, Apple will include it in a wider subscription to iCloud, which is likely to make it easier to justify the price.

Or, even better, it will be free, a service Apple sees as adding value to its overall brand and not, as it is today, an iPhone locking mechanism. If it's free and accessible to all Android users, iMessage can work as a Trojan horse in Apple's other cross-platform services – Apple Music, Texture and maybe its upcoming TV service, which is just a lock for Samsung, LG and Vizio TVs already.

Apple's idea of ​​maintaining its service revenues through an iMessage subscription is unlikely, but more likely than it ever was.

There is also the other side of the argument: Android users would even like iMessage, which is just an alternative to WhatsApp, application-based and countless other alternatives? Much of the iMessage appeal is that you do not have to think about it – it just works. It is also preinstalled on any iPhone in the world. It is much a bigger embedded audience for Apple, even if users choose not to download an application. On Android, however, this will be another app that will search, download, enter, and manage.

So I put the question on Twitter and found little support for the idea – not surprising given the audience, but the virulence of the response was surprising.

As in so many areas, Android users are full of communication tools, but the consensus I see is that this is a very good thing. The official iMessage app for Android can use Apple's backend to sync devices such as iPhone, iPad, and Mac. It will also release the blue bubble from the iPhone.

How valuable would be the expansion of the average Android user and whether Apple could turn it into a viable side-by-side business remains to be seen. The biggest question, at least in my mind, is whether Google cares enough about privacy and security to stop relying on third parties to build encrypted means of communication. He knows that a fully integrated solution such as RCS is a powerful and daring unifier, but without encryption, this is just another mediocre option at sea from competitors.

Do you want to take anything else? Watch Renee Richie's opinion in a video form or read his writing in iMore


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