Android has had a problem with iMessage for a long time. In the United States, Apple’s proprietary chat platform reigns supreme, especially among teenagers. In fact, many Americans won’t switch out of fear of the perceived social stigma that comes with the green chat bubbles that iMessage assigns to Android phone messages. Google has tried different solutions to convince Apple to open up the platform, including going to the European Commission for regulatory relief. For most Android users, this means there’s not much they could do personally to remedy the situation. Until now.
Nothing today announced Nothing Chats, a messaging app that supports both RCS and iMessage. Nothing Chats is powered by Sunbird, a unified messaging platform that has been available in closed beta since late last year. Sunbird allows users to access all their chats, including iMessage, from a single interface. Last April, the app had a waiting list of more than 100,000 entries. Sunbird is one of the few apps that Android users can use to chat with their iPhone-owning friends. The most well-known player in the field is Beeper, which is the brainchild of Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky.
With Friday’s release of Cats, Nothing not only promises to allow Phone 2 owners to “camouflage” themselves as iPhone users. Out of the box, Chats will come 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 arrive at a later date. As mentioned above, Chats also supports RCS, which means you can also enjoy iMessage-like features when messaging your Android friends.
“We understand that the blue bubble versus green bubble dilemma, particularly in North America – while seemingly ridiculous – is real. Nothing Chats enables freedom of communication between anyone, regardless of their smartphone brand – and that’s how it should be,” said Carl Pei, CEO of Nothing. “We want to remind consumers that they have a choice when it comes to their device choices and that their daily behaviors should not be dictated by one company.”
So what’s the problem ? “No data is saved on the platform, so users don’t have to worry about their privacy,” Pei said. Reverse. But there are some concerns. Sunbird, like Beeper, uses a workaround that Apple doesn’t officially support and which the company says certainly puts users at risk. Nothing said Reverse Sunbird’s “patented” process for bringing iMessage to Android involves farms of Mac mini servers that route a user’s messages to Apple.
Before someone can access iMessage on Nothing Chats, they must first sign in to their Apple ID through the Sunbird platform. Nothing said Reverse All iMessage content sent via Chats is encrypted and “at no time can Sunbird access your messages or your Apple ID.” Additionally, Nothing says the startup will delete a user’s Apple credentials after two weeks of inactivity. However, if you decide to use Nothing Chats to access iMessage, you’re actually handing over the keys to your Apple ID to a company that isn’t Apple.
As for whether Nothing Chats is long for this world: Asked about the possibility of Apple taking legal action against Nothing and Sunbird, Pei told Marques Brownlee that he thinks the tech giant “(would) probably nothing.”
In a separate interview with The Washington Post, Pei said Nothing had sold “about six figures’ worth” of Phone 2 devices in North America, Britain and Europe. In other words, it’s a small fish in a big pond. More importantly, Apple is in a regulatory environment in which attempting to shut down a platform that opens iMessage would attract the attention of regulators in the European Union and beyond.
Nothing Chats will be available for download on the Play Store from November 17. Currently, 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.