For the most part, it really does work. Engage someone in an iMessage conversation from Nothing Chats, and they’ll see their messages inside blue bubbles — same as if they were chatting with another iPhone owner. If they’ve added your Apple ID to their contact card, those iMessages will appear in a thread alongside your other previously exchanged texts. Sending images in full quality is generally no problem, and neither is firing off voice memos.
“We understand that the blue bubble vs. green bubble dilemma, especially in North America — although seemingly ridiculous — is real,” Carl Pei, Nothing’s 34-year-old CEO and co-founder, said in a statement. “Nothing Chats allows for freedom of communication between anyone regardless of their brand of smartphone — which is how it should be.”
This past weekend, my partner and I texted about a matter of great importance: Whose holiday movies are better — Lifetime’s or Hallmark’s? And could a big-city iPhone user, visiting her small hometown, fall in love with a local Christmas tree purveyor who uses an Android?
Our comments flew around in blue bubbles for a while, until we decided that Hallmark was the clear winner. Nothing about the conversation felt out of the ordinary — except that I was sending iMessages from an Android phone.
Apart from needing a specific phone, there are key limitations that Sunbird — the New York start-up that developed the messaging system — hasn’t worked out.
For starters, you can’t edit messages you’ve previously sent like you can in iOS. Tapbacks, the micro-responses you can use to react to iMessages, don’t fully work yet. (Thumbs down.) Group chats work only if everyone in the conversation is on iMessage, and sometimes messages just don’t go through unless you send them a few times. (Exclamation mark!)
The experience is very much a work in progress. Still: Blue bubbles! From an Android phone!
That said, Nothing’s limited release means it’s unlikely you won’t be able to try this for yourself. Pei said the company has sold about six figures’ worth of Phone (2) devices in North America, Britain and Europe — the regions where the messaging app will be available.
That means there are at least 100,000 Android phone owners who will soon be able to bust through the green-bubble barrier. Judging by the popularity of other projects trying to make iMessage available on Android, the interest in breaking down those walls is real.
Sunbird, which maintains its own version of the iMessage-compatible messaging app for other Android smartphones, has around 150,000 people waiting to get a taste of blue-bubble life. (Unfortunately, their wait seems to have just gotten longer — in an email, Sunbird CEO Danny Mizrahi said “for the next few months the only way to get Sunbird is to have a Nothing Phone (2).”)
And as of early November, Beeper — an open-source project that lets Android users access iMessage and other messaging services from one app — had more than 130,000 people on its own waitlist.
Meanwhile, Android users with a do-it-yourself streak and a Mac of their own can try BlueBubbles, which passes iMessages onto Windows and Linux in addition to Android devices.
Android users are clearly tired of feeling like the odd people out in iMessage chats. And regulators may wind up on their side, too.
Since September, the European Commission has been pondering whether iMessage is big and important enough a platform to require compatibility with other messaging apps under the European Union’s Digital Markets Act, regulation designed in part to make it easier for consumers to switch between competing services. According to the Financial Times, Google and a handful of European wireless carriers recently argued in a letter to the Commission that’s exactly what should happen. (Representatives for the European Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
While Apple waits to see where lawmakers land, Nothing, Sunbird and companies like them are locked in a waiting game of their own. The big question: Will Apple, a company deeply invested in controlling how customers experience its products, try to shut down their system?
For now, these smaller companies don’t seem too concerned.
“There’s nothing illegal about this setup,” Pei, Nothing’s CEO, said. “I think whatever we do is gonna be passed along within Cupertino, but we’re so small that it will look really bad if Apple takes any action.”
“We don’t see a scenario where Apple tries to, or can, block these messages,” Sunbird CEO Mizrahi said. “Apple’s focus has openly been on providing the best experience to their end users and both Nothing Chats and Sunbird help with that.”
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Even if Apple were to stop Nothing’s new Chat app from tapping into iMessage, Pei still thinks it would be worth “poking the Apple bear.” That’s not out of animosity or a sense of rivalry. Instead, Pei says, he’s trying preserve diversity in a marketplace that’s slowly losing it.
“If you look at young people, 18 and below, I think 87 percent are already on iPhone,” he said, referencing a survey from the investment bank Piper Sandler. “What’s going to happen when they grow up? It’s not easy to move away once you’re used to the iPhone or iMessage.”
“I don’t think this [app] is going to change the world,” he added. “I think this product’s goal is to start a conversation.”