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Apple Didn’t Bring iMessage to Android Because of its Lock-In Strategy

Posted April 9, 2021 | Antitrust | Apple | Epic Games | iOS | iPadOS | Mobile | Windows

I’ve often said that Apple’s ecosystem is a one-way, dead-end street, and now that theory has been proven true by the company’s own executives.

“Consumers—and often their households—become locked in to iOS, with high switching costs and decreased ability and willingness to extract themselves from the iOS ecosystem,” a 365-page Epic Games legal filing notes of Apple’s strategy. “Apple’s core business model is to ‘hook’ its users on this integrated Apple ecosystem, so they ‘wouldn’t want to leave it’ … Apple has developed a number of apps, services, and features that enhance ‘lock in’ into the Apple ecosystem.”

There are many examples of this lock-in, and of course Steve Jobs infamously directed the lock-in strategy in a 2010 internal meeting in which he told executives to “tie all of [Apple’s products together, so [Apple] further lock[s] customers into [its] ecosystem.” But key among these examples is iMessage, Apple’s proprietary messaging system.

“Consumers have come to rely on the ability to iMessage each other on iOS devices,” the Epic filing reads, referencing deposition comments made by Apple CEO Tim Cook, Apple Fellow Phil Schiller, senior vice president Craig Federighi, and senior vice president Eddy Cue. “If an iPhone user attempts to send a text message to the user of a non-Apple device (such as an Android phone), iMessage transmits the message as a standard cellular text (called an SMS), meaning both users are deprived of the features uniquely associated with iMessage. Apple prominently reveals to iOS users whether they are exchanging messages with someone who owns an iOS device: iMessages appears in blue bubbles, and standard text messages appear in green bubbles.”

Apple could have easily ported iMessage to Android to provide cross-platform compatibility. But as early as 2013, the company’s executives decided not to do so because it would lower the bar for users leaving the platform and could enable families to have a mix of iPhones and Android handsets.

“Craig Federighi … feared that ‘iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones,” the filing continues. “Phil Schiller … agreed that Apple should not offer iMessage on Android devices. In 2016, when a former Apple employee commented that ‘the #1 most difficult [reason] to leave the Apple universe app is iMessage . . . iMessage amounts to serious lock-in’ to the Apple ecosystem, Mr. Schiller commented that ‘moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us, this email illustrates why.”

In other words, and contrary to Apple’s marketing, the firm chooses what’s best for itself over what’s best for its users. And that is why “iMessage is still not available on Android.”

Epic has other examples of this lock-in strategy, but they’re obvious to anyone reading this or other tech enthusiasts sites and the argument is, of course, aimed at the courts, which are comprised of less technical people who are probably more readily swayed by Apple’s consumer-first marketing.

Interesting stuff.

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