Rebuking iMessage for Android; thoughts on Apple’s services business

There’s been a lot of talk recently about why people think Apple should release iMessage for Android. When I first heard the rumour, I was happy about it myself and I wanted it to happen just so I didn’t have to resort to other IM clients (Whatsapp) for my cross-platform communication.

But that was before WWDC and iMessage’s gargantuan repurposing, and for different reasons from the ones you’re about to read.

In an article on The Verge titled ‘Mossberg: Apple is still a world of its own’ Walt Mossberg writes:

The best example of this was that it again declined to extend its much-loved and much-used iMessage messaging system to Android, even though Google still seems vulnerable in this area. Apple did announce a clutch of new features for iMessage, like giant emojis, and handwritten texts. And it’s turning the service into a true platform that can host third-party apps like cash transfer services, stickers, photo editing, and restaurant reservation apps. But all of this seemed more about keeping people on Apple hardware than about building the biggest possible services.

When I asked a senior Apple executive why iMessage wasn’t being expanded to other platforms, he gave two answers. First, he said, Apple considers its own user base of 1 billion active devices to provide a large enough data set for any possible AI learning the company is working on. And, second, having a superior messaging platform that only worked on Apple devices would help sales of those devices — the company’s classic (and successful) rationale for years.

This is different from Google or Facebook or Microsoft, whose messaging and other key apps — including their voice-controlled AI assistants — work on competing devices.

Apple is all-in on Apple hardware and still wants you to be all-in, too.

On Walt’s first sentence: Apple hasn’t ‘declined’ releasing iMessage for Android. ‘We will never release iMessage for Android’ is Apple declining and — to my knowledge — Apple hasn’t said anything of that sort. iMessage might as well be released for Android at a later stage.

There are other articles that talk about the same general idea, like David Pierce’s piece on Wired and another article on The Verge (Circuit Breaker, I suppose?) that strangely reads as an opinion piece but isn’t clearly marked as such.

The argument that Apple won’t release iMessage on Android since it wants to add value to its own hardware will hold if you agree with the arguments I am about to make or not. On with the rebuke.

First, the rudimentary. Post-WWDC iMessage is a whole ecosystem on its own. You can write apps for it and Apple’s heavily encouraging developers to do just that. And these are rich, interactive apps not just stickers. If you send your recipient a message that relies on an iMessage app they don’t have, Apple presents a subtle prompt to the recipient to download that app.

Now, would Google’s Play Store allow such a rich, App Store-driven ecosystem to be distributed on Android? Google’s Developer Distribution Agreement (Section 4.5) reads:

You may not use the Store to distribute or make available any Product which has a purpose that facilitates the distribution of software applications and games for use on Android devices outside of the Store.

So no App-Stores allowed. But, you say, why not release iMessage for Android without the app-ability within them? Complications and fragmentation of such an idea aside, you probably wouldn’t hear the end of ‘Apple releases inferior version of iMessage on Android’ stories and ‘scumbag Apple’ accusations.

But that’s an elementary counter — an implementation detail. There’s probably a bigger angle at play here. Little doubt remains that Apple is pushing into services. So traditional knowledge would point to Microsoft/Facebook/Google as reference for a company that does services and therefore reach the ‘Apple should go cross-platform’ conclusion. I don’t see eye to eye with this narrative.

Yes, Apple is pushing into services a lot, Apple Music and this WWDC’s Apple Pay on the web, Siri, and iMessage are good examples of this theory. But that doesn’t make Apple’s services business align with those of companies before it. As I see it, Microsoft etc. want their business run through a model that works by offering its services on all viable platforms. Apple — instead — wants to generate more revenue from its existing customers through services. I hope you see the difference: Other companies’ livelihood largely depends on services; for Apple, their services business is yet another revenue stream.

If you’ll allow me a loose analogy: What was once ‘profit by selling 30% more iPhones each year and give customers great software’ is now ‘profit by selling maybe 10% more iPhones every year and 50% more from great software’.

Apple has always strived to care about you, the customer, after you buy your device and rip it out of the box – whether via. a great software experience or through Genius Bar appointments. But their business with you was for the most part, over, once the device is yours. Anything that followed is because of goodwill, because it’s the right thing to do or just to increase customer loyalty/satisfaction. Now, it seems that what follows after you rip your device out of its box is an instrumental part of their business.

In Uncategorized by Mayur Dhaka