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Apple and Google are locked in a testy spat over texting tech

Google launches new publicity campaign to pressure Apple into adopting RCS, the cross-platform messaging protocol.

Google launches new publicity campaign to pressure Apple into adopting RCS, the cross-platform messaging protocol. Photo: Getty

Apple boss Tim Cook has hit back at a cheeky campaign by tech rival Google aimed at his company’s “outdated” text message service.

Some phone users have long lamented the green message bubbles that come with cross-device messaging, as well as poor-quality compressed videos, the lack of read receipts and other First World headaches.

Google has criticised Apple and its system, which converts texts sent between iPhones and Androids into what’s called SMS and MMS – decades-old systems used to send texts from one device to another.

Google says Apple should adopt its preferred Rich Communication Services [RCS], which it used on Android devices and is what it says is the “modern industry standard”.

Google publicised a lighthearted campaign, dubbed Get the Message – complete with a website and hashtags – urging Apple to switch to RCS.

Mr Cook didn’t get the joke.

“I don’t hear our users asking [for a change]. We put a lot of energy in on [iMessage],” he said at Vox Media’s Code 2022 event on Thursday.

When a journalist complained to Cook about the poor quality of shared videos and images sent to his mother because they had different phones, the Apple chief was blunt: “Buy your mum an iPhone.”

What’s the big deal?

The Google campaign is just the latest volley in a long-running battle over texts between Apple and Android devices.

Apple’s MMS and SMS systems are fine when texts are sent between Apple users, the problem comes when the same message is sent to an Android device.

With Apple-to-Android texts, the message quality is poorer and multimedia sharing is limited – although often the only sign for the Apple user is a green background on sent messages instead of the usual blue bubble.

The Google-preferred RCS is a cross-platform messaging system that promises more consistent quality in texting. It also allows users to send GIFs and high-resolution photos and videos.

SMS and MMS have been around since the late 1990s and rely on carrier networks instead of the internet, meaning a lower quality of shared files.

“It’s not about the colour of the bubbles. It’s the blurry videos, broken group chats, missing read receipts and typing indicators and no texting over Wi-Fi,” Google wrote in the campaign.

“These problems exist because Apple refuses to adopt modern texting standards when people with iPhones and Android phones text each other.”

Its iMessage, or blue messages, sent over an internet connection are compatible only with iPhone devices.

Apple’s plan

The adherence to the SMS and MMS iMessage systems has been cited as an example of Apple ‘locking in’ customers to its devices – and it is not the first time.

Epic Games, the creator of the popular game Fortnite, last year took Apple to court after it removed Fortnite from its app store.

Epic Games argued Apple actively locked customers into its “ecosystem” – and that iMessage was a key way of doing that.

Emails from high-ranking Apple staff exposed in the deposition for that case revealed the lock-in was a company marketing strategy.

“iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones,” Apple senior vice-president of software engineering Craig Federighi said, according to Epic Games.

Google’s senior vice-president of platforms and ecosystems Hiroshi Lockheimer said Apple’s decision to shun RCS messaging was really about protecting iMessage’s vendor lock-in effect.

“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,” he said in a tweet.

Mixed opinion

Some users have called out Google’s attempt to shame Apple.

“Tech companies that have lost often propose standards. It’s a way of saying, ‘Please give up your victory’. Meanwhile, I have half a dozen ways to send my friends messages. Google isn’t asking for WhatsApp or WeChat to adopt RCS,” wrote one Twitter critic.

Other commentators have supported the campaign.

This is why Apple needs to #GetTheMessage: users DON’T CARE if their friends have android phones or iPhones. They want things to be easy to use, secure, and reliable,” one wrote.

“Next time you think Android users are annoying cuz they can’t be added to the group chat, thank Apple.”

 

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