Death by 1,000 Cuts: How iMessage Complicated Texting on Android

Omar Zahran
14 min readJan 6, 2021
Image Credit: via Unsplash

There is a moment when a new product is introduced that changes the way that we think about an entire category. A product that changes the dynamic of things so much that other companies have to react with their version of it to stay relevant. The rise of Netflix for example sent shockwaves to the traditional television channels that they must adapt to the world of streaming. And if they do not do this, then they have languished in irrelevance. It is this kind of shift that I think about when it comes to Apple’s iMessage and how it has reshaped the way that we message one another. Specifically, in the context of those of us that use Android phones, it has created a litany of apps trying to emulate it and compete with it. And this has led to a confusing result for the end-user when it comes to something as simple as how to communicate with family and friends.

How Did We Get Here

Image Credit: Omar Al-Ghossen via Unsplash

The concept of the text message was invented back in 1984 but wasn’t popularized until Nokia’s 9000i Communicator in 1997 (this is a good read from 2012 about the history of SMS). Text messaging in its early days was limited to 160 characters, a way to send a quick burst message to another phone. Over time with the introduction of the smartphone, these messages became longer and longer. Yet the standard hasn’t changed much over the years, save for the introduction of MMS (multimedia message service) that allowed for sending photos and videos.

This all changed when Apple introduced iMessage in the fall of 2011. The idea was simple, we as users have evolved past the phone call being our primary form of communication. But the nature of SMS and MMS was reliant upon cellular service and hadn’t evolved with the times. Apple’s solution was to create a server that created a messaging solution through the internet as opposed to cellular phone networks. This is something similar that made BlackBerry Messenger such a success in the heyday of the BlackBerry as well. The true genius of Apple’s implementation of iMessage though was in a color. Apple made iMessages blue while standard SMS was green, creating what is often…