Last night, Tim Cook downplayed the prospect of solving the green bubble problem — and he revealed the real reason why Apple won’t do it: It can’t sell iPhones.
At the Vox Media Code conference, an attendee told Cook that it was difficult to send videos to his mother because Apple devices don’t support RCS, a texting protocol provided by Google and supported by major phone carriers. Cook, in response, suggested the attendee buy his mother an iPhone. “I don’t hear our customers asking us to use a lot of power at this point,” Cook said.
This is the first time Cook has publicly addressed RCS, the Rich Communications Services protocol. RCS is a big improvement over SMS and MMS, it lets you do things like send high-quality photos and videos, and it solves many of the problems you might face when sending messages between Apple and Android devices. But Apple has so far refrained from offering support, and the contrast between iMessage’s blue bubbles and the green colors of a regular text message remains a thorn in Google’s side.
Apple has deliberately chosen to offer the best texting experience through iMessage only to Apple — and Cook’s comments on Wednesday reflect that choice. For years, locking users into its platforms has been a key part of Apple’s strategy. Emails disclosed as part of this Epic Games v. Apple Top executives like Craig Federighi (in 2013) and Phil Schiller (in 2016) have stated that bringing iMessage to Android would not benefit Apple. Eddy Cue testified in a deposition that Apple may have developed an Android version of iMessage that would be compatible with iOS, but that apparently has not been publicly released.
By making iMessage an Apple-only product — and continuing to improve it with features like editing and unsending messages — Apple can make the best way to message your friends on an Apple device using Apple’s messaging app. The company can theoretically adopt RCS And Keep iMessage on Apple devices, which benefits from creating as much separation as possible between text messages across Apple and Android. That means more people will buy more iPhones.
Google has been aggressively pushing Apple to adopt RCS in recent months. Google implemented it on Android, and it’s now supported by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon (after a very slow rollout). And with all three committed to making Google’s Android messaging app the default texting app for the Android phones they sell, it’s possible that people will just text through RCS without even thinking about it.
Google SVP Hiroshi Lockheimer led the charge, saying there was a “really obvious solution” to the messaging woes and joking that Apple was “turning off” texting customers. The company also recently launched a website called “Get the Message” to try to shame Apple into adopting RCS.
Lockheimer understands Apple’s resistance to RCS, “but people can send high-quality videos and photos to their mom without having to buy a new phone.” He \ he said. Cook, it appears, disagrees.