So while I was aware my new phone purchase would provide access to iMessage and FaceTime, I considered it just another aspect of having an iOS device. After all, Apple’s services like Apple Arcade and Apple Music are often touted as being the best or exclusive to Apple products, but every one of them has rivals that work on both iOS and Android.
My decision to ditch my Android phone in favor of an iPhone earlier this summer wasn’t supposed to matter very much. Android phones are great, and for years I’ve been using the many non-iOS services that exist for texting and video-chatting my friends and family. I barely even think about what kind of phone others use when I want to text them. I just use whichever service seems easiest for them, whether it’s WhatsApp, Signal, Instagram or something else. While standard texting may be antiquated, it still works most of the time.
“I’m so happy you are blue now!!!”
Surely, I thought, we’d moved past whether someone’s a “green bubble” or a “blue bubble” in a text message. But then after I started using my new iPhone, the following messages started coming in from several friends:
“It’s about time.”
“Bienvenue a la Club Apple!”
These are all actual statements, whether through texting or in person, that friends being made aware of my switch have made to me… and I simply do not understand why.
Yes, iMessage is convenient. Yes, so is FaceTime. While I personally decided to buy an iPhone 12 Pro Max for the redesign and app privacy controls in iOS 14.5, I didn’t expect it to make a difference to anyone in my social circle. I especially didn’t expect it to matter to the point of friends displaying fairly intense relief and jubilation.
During the last three years of using Android on a Moto Z2 Play and a Pixel 3 XL, the same friends simply “met” me on other services. Many use WhatsApp for texting (which will soon support easier chat history transfers between iOS and Android). Google Duo is my favorite way to video-chat — and frankly already includes many of the new improvements coming to FaceTime this fall in iOS 15, such as invite links, Portrait Mode and chatting inside any web browser. A combination of Facebook Messenger and Microsoft’s Skype hits most other contacts who aren’t into WhatsApp or Duo. And even a recent group chat that was trudging along on MMS shifted over to Instagram. (Alas: I wish more people had access to RCS messages…) Despite the clear comfort people have with these non-Apple services, in the weeks leading up to my device swap several of my friends told me their plans to quit those other services once I moved to iOS.
“You’re the only one I talk to on WhatsApp,” confessed a close college friend who previously told me it was “super convenient.” Two friends I speak to primarily on Facebook Messenger told me they were excited to move our chat to iMessage, and then I realized one of them had never even given me their phone number.
And another friend rarely had any interest in doing video chats with me when I used Android, but now that they can FaceTime, I get unprompted calls. My family members, graciously, have not cared whether or not I’m using an iPhone. While I know using FaceTime is a preference for them, one thing mattered most: Does it work? So at least with them, video chats over WhatsApp and Skype are still viable.
And while that’s great, it’s also about being competitive. Apple knows that if it doesn’t catch up with rival services like Zoom, even the most loyal Apple customers may turn away from services like FaceTime. As for me, making the switch didn’t change much. I still communicate with everyone in my life. It’s just that now because of my “blue bubble,” it’s a little bit easier for my friends and family who prefer using an iPhone.
“Very often there was someone in a large group who maybe didn’t have an Apple device and you don’t want to shut them out of the party, and yet we didn’t want to have to use something other than FaceTime, and so we thought as an Apple customer, what do you want, you do want to be able to pull in all of your friends,” Federighi said in the interview. Even Apple is starting to acknowledge that facilitating a fast and easy conversation no matter what device people are on is most important. FaceTime opening up to include participants on Android, Windows and web browsers is a half-step: In iOS 15, you can include anyone you want in a conversation — another iPhone, an Android device or a Windows machine — but actually starting a FaceTime remains exclusive to Apple devices. In an interview with UrAvgConsumer on YouTube, Apple Senior Vice President Craig Federighi acknowledged that opening up FaceTime has become what the company’s customers want.