Robert Triggs / Android Authority
The ‘green bubble’ phenomenon has hit the headlines again, following allegations that Apple uses its iMessage platform to “inflict peer pressure and bullying as a way of selling products”. A bold but increasingly substantiated claim, at least as far as America is concerned.
Like much modern news, the narrative is primarily determined by US-based trends. The rest of the world seems far less obsessed with your smartphone or the messaging platform of your choice. Many readers may wonder what the iMessage nuisance is and why they keep hearing about a platform they never use.
blue and green bubbles
If you’re catching on to the saga, Apple’s default messaging app shows blue bubbles when sending texts, photos, and videos to other iMessage users. These messages use Wi-Fi or mobile data but are otherwise free to send and receive.
The app displays green bubbles when communicating with non-iMessage users, such as falling back to SMS/MMS for Android phones, texts, pictures, etc. While SMS is regularly unlimited on US and European phone plans, it is not offered around the whole world. So some iPhone customers may have to pay to send messages to their Android friends. Depending on carrier limitations, media can also be compressed when sent as an MMS.
Read more: Don’t forget — the green bubble on the iPhone is a person
There are other advantages to iMessage to iMessage communication as well. Messages are encrypted and the app also displays read and typing notifications. In other words, blue bubble iMessage users benefit from features you might recognize from WhatsApp and other services, while green bubbles do not. While sound in itself, the lack of feature parity has led some iPhone users to tarnish their green bubble contacts.
Where does iMessage fit into the big picture?
To put the discussion into some perspective, iMessage is far from the most widely used messaging app globally. According to Statista, this title belongs to WhatsApp with around 2 billion monthly active global users in October 2021. It is followed by Facebook Messenger (1.3 billion) and WeChat (1.2 billion), then QQ (591 million), Telegram (550 million), and Snapchat (538 million). Unfortunately, no comparative data exists for iMessage. Some estimates suggest users closer to 1.3 billion, but as iMessage is the iPhone’s default SMS app, any user who receives text messages or just plain old spam can count in those numbers.
Regional trends from November 2021 confirm the diverse range of messaging apps in use around the world. WhatsApp claims the highest usage among 53 countries spread across Europe, India and South America. WeChat is the platform of choice in China, Viber is particularly popular in Bulgaria, Greece and Ukraine, and Telegram is widely used in Argentina, Israel and Spain.
Facebook Messenger may be the most popular US platform today but Gen Z is moving towards iPhone-exclusivity.
Even in the US, the home of the iPhone, Facebook Messenger is the most popular messaging app. According to a separate survey from June 2020, 32% of US adults used Facebook Messenger, 20% used Instagram, 17% iMessage and 12% Whatsapp. Popular global apps such as WeChat, Viber and Telegram registered barely 2%, painting a vastly different picture of messaging habits compared to the rest of the world. But even in the US, iMessage isn’t the most popular app in the general population. at least not yet.
The data shows platform-agnostic messaging apps are favored when looking at both the US-focused and global picture. So where does this obsession with iMessage originate?
iMessage — an American teen phenomenon
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority
The key to understanding the green bubble phenomenon has been found in a survey by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Research recently highlights a massive increase in US iPhone sales in the 18-24 age group. Gen Z iPhone adoption has increased from 47% in 2018 to 74% in 2021, meanwhile, ownership has increased slightly from 34% to 40% over the same period for people over 24. Internal Apple research claims that iPhone users primarily use iMessage (85%). users) and so the US user base of iMessage continues to grow. Particularly in younger age groups and with it the pressure to keep using the same platform as their peers.
With such rapid growth, in part, Apple appears to be right in its decision to keep its messaging service exclusive, in part from the social status associated with the use of iMessage. Apple’s senior VP of software and services, Eddie Q, wanted to bring iMessage to Android in 2013, but was vetoed by other executives. Apple didn’t want to give away one of its unique selling points.
Leaving Apple free to capture an entire generation of the US market is a huge risk to its rivals.
The explosion of a young American user base is likely to translate into brand loyalty that can last a lifetime. Even though iPhones and iMessage aren’t the biggest players globally, it should worry rival companies like Google, Samsung and the tech industry at large. For starters, they are in danger of losing a generation of lucrative American business. And not just in the smartphone space, Apple brand loyalty now extends to the PC, audio/music, TV and smart home markets as well. These product segments could soon fall prey to the allure of status quo but also classic technological capability.
Moreover, the importance and impact of brand perception on the global picture cannot be underestimated. Brands and trends that flourish in the US tend to make their way into Europe and beyond. Currently, Android has a 73% global market share, reaching a high of 88% in South Africa, but reaching and falling to only 40% in the US. It’s not just messaging apps, there’s a growing gap between the US and the rest of the world when it comes to mobile and desktop operating systems, tablets, and smart home use. American examples often lean towards the Apple camp.
Leaving Apple unchecked to capture an entire generation of the US market is a huge risk for companies, even those currently enjoying success in other sectors.
Measures to end Green Bubble Bullying
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
Turning to the nature of iMessage, one of the more interesting aspects of the green bubble phenomenon is that it doesn’t really matter that iMessage features can be found elsewhere. Rather it is social perception from deliberately curated technical exclusivity and the resulting perceived difference between the blue and green bubbles that are driving the issue. Encouraging Google to install a rival Android application won’t solve the problem, even if the company doesn’t already have a formidable track record in this area over the past decade. In fact, you’ll find similar and often more advanced features available on third-party Internet messaging platforms already in use around the world.
Google is instead advocating for Apple to support RCS messaging instead of native SMS features when communicating with Android users. RCS will help create a similarity between blue and green bubbles, as it supports typing indicators, read receipts and many other features that are currently missing from Green Bubble Hoi Poloi. However RCS is not a complete global solution, as it depends on the carrier and handset support. Alternatively, persuading Apple to bring iMessage to Android will work. But it seems that given the company’s historical observations and what it has gained from the exclusivity of iMessage.
See all: How to Enable RCS Messaging on Your Phone
Google claims that Apple is stalling innovation by failing to support the latest messaging features. That’s a fair criticism and similar complaints can be made about Apple’s stubborn support for the Lightning connector. However, unlike the latter, it’s doubtful we’ll see Apple come under legal scrutiny for anti-competitive behavior regarding iMessage. Instead, for now, telling Apple to play nicely appears to be the only option.