Google is by far the most popular operating system worldwide with almost 75% of all smartphones running on it, but there is one big problem that has been plaguing the Android platform for quite some time now. Apple’s proprietary chat platform, iMessage, reigns supreme in the US, particularly among teens, and many Americans are unwilling to switch to Android for fear of the perceived social stigma that comes with the green chat bubbles iMessage assigns to messages from Android phones.
For years, Google has tried different strategies to convince Apple to open the iMessage platform, including turning to the European Commission for regulatory relief. However, for most Android users, there has been little they’ve been able to do about the situation. Until now.
Nothing, a tech company, has recently announced the launch of Nothing Chats, a messaging app that supports both RCS and iMessage. The app builds on Sunbird, a unified messaging platform that has been in closed beta since last year. Sunbird allows users to access all of their chats, including iMessage, from a single interface. In April, the app had a waitlist of over 100,000 entries. Sunbird is one of the few apps that Android users can use to chat with their iPhone-touting friends. Another notable player in the space is Beeper, which is the brainchild of Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky.
With the release of Nothing Chats, the company isn’t just promising to allow Phone 2 owners to “camouflage” themselves as iPhone users. Out of the box, Chats will ship with support for many of iMessage’s signature features, including typing indicators, high-resolution media sharing, and proper group messaging. Read receipts and Tapback reactions will be available at a later date. As mentioned, Chats also supports RCS, meaning you can enjoy iMessage-like features when messaging your Android friends too.
Nothing CEO Carl Pei stated, “Nothing Chats allows for freedom of communication between anyone regardless of their brand of smartphone – which is how it should be. We want to remind consumers that they do have a choice when it comes to device selection and that their daily behaviors should not be dictated by any one company.”
However, there are some concerns about how Nothing Chats accesses iMessage. Sunbird, like Beeper, employs a workaround that Apple doesn’t officially support, and that the company would almost certainly argue puts users at risk. Nothing told Inverse Sunbird’s “patented” process for bringing iMessage to Android involves server farms of Mac minis that route a user’s messages through to Apple.
Before someone can access iMessage on Nothing Chats, they must first sign into their Apple ID through Sunbird’s platform. Nothing told Inverse all iMessage content sent through Chats is encrypted, and that “at no point can Sunbird access your messages or Apple ID.” Additionally, Nothing notes the startup will delete a user’s Apple ID credentials after two weeks of inactivity.
As for whether Nothing Chats is long for this world, Pei believes that Apple will “probably do nothing.” In a separate interview with The Washington Post, Pei stated that Nothing has sold “about six figures’ worth” of Phone 2 devices in North America, Britain, and Europe, which reveals that Nothing is a small fish in a giant ocean. More importantly, Apple finds itself in a regulatory environment where attempting to shut down a platform that is opening up iMessage would draw the attention of regulators in the European Union and beyond.
Nothing Chats will be available to download from the Play Store starting on November 17. For the time being, a Nothing Phone 2 is required to access the platform, with regional availability limited to the US, Canada, UK, EU, and other European countries, including Norway and Switzerland. This development is a welcome change for Android users who have been longing for access to the iMessage platform while using their smartphones. Only time will tell what response Apple has and how successful Nothing Chats will be with Android users.