Apple's iMessage Won't Have to Connect With Other Chat Apps, EU Rules

While WhatsApp is preparing to allow for conversations across other apps, Apple's iMessage won't be held to the same standard.

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Apple's iMessage service does not need to interoperate with other chat apps, announced the European Union.

Nelson Aguilar/CNET

Apple's iMessage doesn't qualify as a gatekeeper service, according to the European Union, meaning that the company's Messages app will not need to directly connect with other chat apps.

The EU made the announcement Tuesday, stating that Apple's iMessage service no longer qualifies as a gatekeeper under the governing body's Digital Markets Act. While iMessage was previously considered to fall under that label, Apple submitted a rebuttal in September that appears to have changed that designation for now.

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Services that qualify as gatekeepers under the DMA must meet several standards to operate in the European Union. Meta's WhatsApp falls under the EU's gatekeeper label, so the company has been readying a third-party chats section to enable conversations to take place across other services. The same has been applied to the company's Messenger app. According to documents on the Digital Markets Act's website citing the designation for both of Meta's services, the size of the communication platform as well as the platform's ability to monetize are taken into consideration.

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The iMessage announcement came alongside a similar announcement for Microsoft's Bing search engine and Edge web browser, both of which will not be seen as gatekeepers for now.

"The Commission will continue to monitor the developments on the market with respect to these services, should any substantial changes arise," the EU said in its announcement. "The decisions do not affect in any way the designation of Apple and Microsoft as gatekeepers on 5 September 2023 as regards their other core platform services."

Apple's rebuttal, according to documents dated on Sept. 5, includes the company's opinion that iMessage is not a fee-based service despite the requirement to purchase an iPhone and that certain iMessage services are purchased through Apple's App Store instead of the Messages app. The EU did not detail in its Tuesday announcement which elements of Apple's rebuttal ultimately led to the decision to remove the gatekeeper designation, stating that non-confidential documents relating to the decision will be published soon.

While Apple's iMessage will not be considered a gateway service by the EU to require interoperability, the company is planning to support the RCS texting standard this year, which many Android phones already support through the Google Messages app. While we're still waiting for details on when Apple will launch RCS and how it will implement it, the iPhone maker has said it will be working with the GSM Association to support RCS alongside iMessage.

Apple agreed with the EU's announcement, pointing to the other third-party messaging apps the iPhone supports.

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"We thank the Commission for agreeing with us that iMessage should not be designated under the DMA," Apple said in a statement. "iMessage is a great service that Apple users love because it provides an easy way to communicate with friends and family while offering industry-leading privacy and security protections. Consumers today have access to a wide variety of messaging apps, and often use many at once, which reflects how easy it is to switch between them."

Even though Apple won't need to modify iMessage to comply with the EU, it will have to make other changes to iOS to keep selling its devices in the region. That includes allowing rival App Stores to appear on iOS, a proactive prompt that informs users they can pick other web browsers besides Safari and access to alternative payment services. Many of these changes will only be seen in the European Union, but the EU's rulings have paved the way toward Apple bringing USB-C to the iPhone 15 line in all regions.

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