Mobile

When I switched to iPhone, blue iMessage bubbles made my friends far too happy

Commentary: Apple's blue bubbles really shouldn't matter, but for many they do.

Now that I have FaceTime, I have friends who suddenly want to video-call.
Sarah Tew/CNET

I decided to switch from my Android phone to an iPhone last summer, and I figured it wasn't going to matter very much. I would need to relearn how to use iOS, but otherwise I've been using many non-iOS services, like WhatsApp, Signal and Instagram, to text and video chat with my family and friends for years. I barely even think about what type of phone someone uses when I text them. I just use whichever messaging service is most convenient for them, and at worst I fall back to the still-working but antiquated SMS. 

Read more: Wait a minute, does the two-year phone upgrade plan still make sense? I think not

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iMessage is nice, but it shouldn't be vital.

Apple

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 on or exclusive to Apple products, but every one of them has rivals that work on both iOS and Android. 

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:

"I'm so happy you are blue now!!!"

"Bienvenue a la Club Apple!"

"It's about time."

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.

I'm far from the only one that experiences this apparent social pariah status for not using an iPhone. The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed teenagers for a story about iMessage, during which a 19-year-old was trying out an Android phone as an experiment. She's quickly greeted with "Who's green," by one of her friends in a group chat. Apple also encourages expressions and screen effects that can be seen from iPhone to iPhone, but when sent from iPhone to Android often leads to a robotic "Your friend loves your message," being sent instead of something more colorful. Android's Messages app recently added these reactions, but currently they're also limited to other Android users.

Yes, iMessage is convenient. Yes, so is FaceTime. While I personally decided to buy an iPhone 12 Pro Max for its design and app privacy controls introduced 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.

Read more: The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro are out now, powered by iOS 15.

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 first had many of the new new FaceTime features that debuted 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.

Signal and WhatsApp messaging

Signal and WhatsApp both offer encrypted messaging, whether or not you use an iPhone.

James Martin/CNET

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.

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.

"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.

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. But I still use WhatsApp. And Signal. And Instagram. And any other app that makes it easy for me to reach people. As long as it can send me an iPhone notification, I don't have a preference.

What's your favorite app for texting and video chatting? And is it particularly important for your friends and family to use iMessage or FaceTime? Tell us in the comments.