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iPhone's blue bubble won't let me stray to the Galaxy S8

Commentary: One of the most important Apple features that keeps me from buying a Samsung Galaxy S8 is blue.

Let's get one thing clear: that new Samsung Galaxy S8 looks amazing. Our review says that it's the most beautiful, polished phone ever and I have to agree. If early sales estimates are correct, I'm definitely not the only one who wants it.

But, I won't get one. The Galaxy S8, like all Android phones, lacks a tiny blue-bubbled wonder: iMessage. And while it's not the only feature keeping me on an iPhone, it might be the most significant. As many iPhone users know, iMessage is a hard addiction to beat.

What is it about those friendly blue text bubbles that has a hold on me? Is it that the color blue has come to represent all the wonderful things iMessage is capable of?

    • Sending instant messages over data or Wi-Fi

      The new Galaxy S8 is stunning.

      Sarah Tew/CNET
    • Messaging from my iPhone, Mac or iPad
    • Having messages synced across all my Apple devices
    • Animating messages when they are delivered
    • Leaving group chats with satisfying ease
    • Sharing my location
    • Using iMessage apps and games
    • Encrypting messages
    • Sharing all sorts of media: text, emojis, photos, GIFs, stickers, videos, drawings, webpages, even my heartbeat

    Or am I just afraid of becoming a green bubble to my blue bubble friends and family? This is an honest dilemma for me. And there is really only one solution: I want iMessage on Android.

    Longing for convenience

    The idea of switching from iOS to Android doesn't scare me. But going from a world where my messages seem to follow me around to whatever Apple device I'm on, to one where my messages are isolated to just my phone isn't that appealing.

    Sure, Samsung makes transferring old messages from an iPhone to a Galaxy phone pretty easy. And that's important. But I'd miss the convenience of iMessage syncing text messages between my phone, Mac and iPad. That's where the real magic happens. On Android, my messages would be trapped like some kind of disheartened wild animal.

    There is Google Voice and third-party apps that can make the Android/Mac message sync possible, but it adds another step to a process that is already seamless with iMessage. And who wants another step? Not me. I just want iMessage.

    Note to self: Maybe this is how people felt leaving behind Blackberry Messenger for an iPhone 10 years ago? Empathy.

    Will Apple freeze hell again?

    The idea that Apple would ever let iMessage cross over to Android isn't that crazy. Back in 2003, Steve Jobs famously declared that "hell froze over" when he announced that iTunes would be available on Windows.

    imessage.jpg

    iMessage is a hard habit to break.

    Patrick Holland/CNET

    Apple Music is currently available on both iOS and Android. Of course that may have less to do with an Apple multi-platform epiphany, and more to do with the fact that it's a carryover from the old Beats music service that was on both Android and iOS when Apple bought it.

    At last year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), third-party app-makers got access to iMessage software in order to create apps, stickers and games for the service. This marked the first time Apple opened up iMessage compatibility publicly. Some journalists, even me, thought this foreshadowed a future where Apple might bring iMessage to Android. That would change everything. But right now it's just speculation, so let's not jump the gun.

    It's not easy being green

    Recently, I got to use a Google Pixel for a few days. It's such a fantastic phone. I especially like the Pixel's design. But a friend expressed his concern while we were messaging: "You're green, is everything okay?" -- referring to the color of my text message bubbles on his iPhone.

    I explained that I was trying out the Pixel. "How long are you going to be green for?" I told him just a couple days. "Let me know when you're blue." The whole conversation felt like something out of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

    Other iMessage-like services

    WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are two popular apps that work on iOS and Android.

    Josh Miller/CNET

    The absence of iMessage on Android has left a wild west-like opportunity for other services and apps that work on both iOS and Android. Google has several: Hangouts (which will replace GChat), Allo, Google Messenger, Google Voice and Duo (which is more like Apple's FaceTime).

    But then there's Facebook, which has Messenger and WhatsApp. Both are available on iOS and Android. And while they still lack the "it just works" seamless cross device integration of iMessage, both services offer a head-spinning amount of functionality: messaging, games, money transfer, voice calls, video calls, GIFs, group messaging and document sharing among other things.

    Facebook is gobbling up the opportunity to be the messaging service for everyone no matter what operating system people use: Windows, MacOS, Android or iOS. The company recently announced that Messenger hit 1.2B users.

    Once you go iPhone you never go back

    There is the possibility that Apple will never bring iMessage to Android. The feature is a sticky reason for people to upgrade from one iPhone to another. But in the last couple years, Android phones like the Google Pixel and the new Galaxy S8 are attractive enough to pull me away from my iPhone. And while iMessage isn't the only reason I stay -- the camera, iOS, iCloud backup and tech support from the Apple Store -- it's definitely one of the most compelling.

    So if iMessage doesn't hop ship to Android, then I probably won't either. That means no S8 or Pixel for me. I will likely wait for the next iPhone and hope that it's even more badass than the Galaxy S8.

    Both Apple and Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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