Nothing has just lobbed a proverbial grenade into the growing Android and iMessage debate by announcing a new feature that lets you message iOS users from its Android phone with Apple's famous blue bubbles.
The Nothing Chats app for the Nothing Phone (2) will, as its launch video explains, let you "camouflage" yourself when texting iOS users by showing your messages in blue bubbles, the hallmark of Apple's iMessages – normally only shown if someone is messaging from an Apple device. The feature will initially only be available in the US, Canada, UK, and EU on that phone.
iMessage has been in the headlines again recently, as Google and other telcos have been pushing the European Commission to force Apple to open up the service to new standards like RCS messaging. Right now, Apple's default messaging app shows messages from Android phones in green bubbles, and also controversially uses older SMS/MMS tech for non-iMessage users.
Those green bubbles carry a stigma in some circles, notably among Gen Z users in the US, so the Nothing Chats app is a symbolic strike back for Android. How does it work? It's powered by Sunbird, one of a few messaging hubs that have emerged recently (another is Beeper) to act as a peacemaking bridge between iOS and Android.
Sunbird says that it doesn't store any of your messages on its servers – they're apparently end-to-end encrypted. But you will need to log into Nothing Chats (which will be available on the Google Play store soon) using an existing Apple ID username, or by making a new Apple account.
Also, while you will get some iMessage-like features – blue bubbles, recipients being able to see when you're typing, sharing uncompressed media – you don't get all of the features enjoyed by iMessage users on iOS. Read receipts and message reactions are listed as "coming soon" and an early hands-on from The Washington Post revealed that some features (like editing messages) are either absent or don't yet work seamlessly.
Still, considering Sunbird is currently invite-only, the feature is quite a perk for Nothing Phone (2) owners – and a nice boost for Google's long-running campaign to "fix texting" by forcing Apple to open up iMessages.
Analysis: Not quite the real deal
As Nothing CEO Carl Pei acknowledges in the video above, Nothing Chats won't singlehandedly change the world or open up messaging – instead, it's more a way to "start this conversation" about companies (read: Apple) practicing what it sees as anti-competitive lock-in.
That's also very much what Google has been arguing recently with its iPager campaign. But it seems unlikely that Apple will change its stance on iMessages without regulator intervention. Its argument against the latter has been that iMessage simply isn't popular enough in the EU and that users are free to choose another messaging service if they think it offers superior features.
Still, it'll be interesting to see if Apple responds to Nothing's new dig at iMessages. Carl Pei says that he's "working under the assumption that Tim Cook is going to watch this video", but it still seems unlikely that Apple will acknowledge it publicly unless it considers the feature worth shutting down.
In the meantime, other Android users might start to look into Sunbird and alternatives like Beeper as a way to solve the ongoing iMessage tussle. While it might sound like a frivolous issue, iMessage is a very much a big deal for those thinking of switching to Android. And despite the arrival of Nothing Chats, that'll likely continue to be the case for a while yet.