Apple Says This Is the iPhone’s Most Important Feature. Why It’s Never Coming to Android

The lawsuit between Epic and Apple over the latter’s control of the iOS App Store is sure to reveal plenty of interesting pieces of information about how the two companies operate. As a reminder, Epic is suing Apple because the iPhone-maker kicked Fortnite (which is made by Epic) out of the App Store when the game added its own in-app purchase feature last summer.

Epic alleges that Apple is engaging in anti-competitive practices because it has a monopoly over the market for app distribution on iPhones. Apple’s position is that Epic violated the guidelines it agreed to and that Fortnite can return if it simply rolls back the change. 

All of that is interesting, but even more revealing is how Apple decided long ago to never bring iMessage to Android. According to a filing from Epic, “As early as 2013, Apple decided not to develop a version of iMessage for the Android OS.”

That’s based on a deposition with Eddie Cue, Apple’s SVP of internet software and services. According to the documents, the only reason Apple didn’t make such a version is that “iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove an obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android Phones.” 

Interestingly, Apple’s Messages app is only really a big deal in the U.S. As Tom Warren, an editor for The Verge points out, in most other countries, people use alternatives like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, or Telegram:

Still, iMessages is representative of one of the things that makes Apple’s ecosystem so powerful and profitable–everything just works together. The more Apple products and services you use, the harder it is to leave. 

“The more people use our stores the more likely they are to buy additional Apple products and upgrade to the latest versions,” Cue is quoted as saying. “Who’s going to buy a Samsung phone if they have apps, movies, etc already purchased? They now need to spend hundreds more to get to where they are today.” 

If a customer were to buy a non-Apple phone, they would have to “buy some of these things again.” In that sense, there’s really no motivation for Apple to open up its ecosystem.

You can debate whether or not Apple should open its ecosystem, and there are various arguments for both sides. Would it be better for users if they could more easily switch between platforms? Of course, it would. Then again, the fact that Apple does control the entire ecosystem–from hardware to software–means it generally provides a better overall experience compared with its competition. 

iMessage is a great example. When iPhone users send a message to another iPhone user, the messages appear in blue bubbles. When the message is from a non-iPhone user, the bubble is green. There are plenty of stories of how iPhone users turn up their nose at their green-bubble friends.

iPhone user’s distaste for those green bubbles isn’t just about being tech-snobs, by the way. There are plenty of features that simply don’t work when sending messages to non-iPhone users, especially in group chats. 

There was no technical reason Apple couldn’t have made iMessage work on Android, it was simply a business decision. Phil Schiller, who was previously the head of worldwide marketing for Apple for decades, and who is now an Apple Fellow but retains leadership of the App Store, said: “moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us.”

That’s because getting people locked in has long been the thing Apple is best at, and why the iPhone is so valuable in the first place. It just makes sense that you want to give people few reasons to leave your product, and as many as possible to stay. 

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