Tim Cook's attitude towards iPhone users wanting a fix for texting is condescending: It's time for Apple to talk to Android
- When asked to fix iPhone's issues texting Android, Tim Cook brushed it off with a flippant comment.
- The Apple CEO is ignoring years of user complaints instead of supporting the RCS standard.
I was taken aback when Tim Cook recently told a reporter who's also an iPhone user that Apple won't fix texting issues with Android because users aren't asking for that — and if the person wanted to send high-quality videos to his mother, "buy your mom an iPhone."
I found the CEO's response surprisingly flippant. I believe it was also wrong.
For years, customers have been complaining about iPhone/Android texting problems on Apple's community site — the place where customers ask Apple to fix things. There are over 600 posts about it.
As a former Gartner and Jupiter analyst who has covered Apple for decades (and spent several years at Apple as a senior marketing executive) Cook's tone, however humorous it might have been intended, wasn't funny for users who want their devices to "just work." That includes the ability to message seamlessly to friends, family or colleagues who use Android phones.
Apple has made billions from Windows customers in the past
Back during the iPod's heyday, senior Apple executives pushed for iTunes on Windows with full iPod support, despite Steve Jobs reluctance. With this, Apple could sell iPods to, and make money from, Windows customers, they argued, far more money than by keeping iPod as an expensive Mac-only accessory.
It took these executives effort to get Jobs to relent (with Jobs' warning that if it failed they would be blamed) but it turned out to be one of the best decisions Apple ever made. iPod and iTunes became multi-billion businesses, a major source of Apple revenue for years, and the blueprint for Apple's current lucrative services business.
It's ironic, therefore, that some of the same executives have advocated not to allow messaging interoperability with Android.
Craig Federighi, Apple's SVP of Software Engineering and the executive in charge of iOS, feared "iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones."
In emails from 2016 made public by court filings, a former Apple employee wrote "iMessage amounts to serious lock-in" to the Apple ecosystem. Phil Schiller, formerly SVP of Worldwide Apple Marketing, and now an Apple Fellow, replied by writing "moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us."
Apple should solve the iMessage issue using RCH
Yet, if Apple created an iMessage app for Android, the company could solve a user problem on both platforms. But it doesn't even have to build an Android app. It could simply use the widely adopted standard called Rich Communication Services.
RCS isn't better than iMessage. It's also not worse. It is, however, a tech created by Google, Apple's largest competitor in mobile.
If Apple just added RCS support to iOS it would let Apple keep all the cool iOS features for itself but would allow iOS users to send messages containing attachments such as videos and graphics messages to Android users with full fidelity.
Of course, Apple loves interoperability when there's profit at stake, especially stable and predictable services revenue. (Wall Street loves stable and predictable revenues.) Apple TV+ lives on other platforms, even on Samsung TVs and monitors. Apple Music lives nicely in the Google Play app store. And there likely isn't a multi-billion business lurking behind messaging interoperability.
But the company's refusal to fix this is a burden on iOS users, not Android users. If iMessage is truly a major reason that iPhone users stick around, then Apple is on a slippery slope. The more these interoperability issues plague Apple users, the more users will find ways around iMessage. It's already happening outside of the US, where more users embrace services such as WhatsApp or Signal.
Once users are trusting their communications to someone else's app that "lock-in" vanishes.
Look, I'm not saying the iPhone or Apple is doomed — this is the Apple of 2022, not 2002. Apple will certainly sell a gazillion "amazing, best ever" iPhones 14 this year (in a stunning shade of purple so iPhone buyers can make a visible statement their iPhones are this year's model, not some old iPhone 13 or worse, a 12).
It's actually in Apple's self-interest to help all smartphone users
But despite Apple's wishes, Android — the competition Apple refuses to even acknowledge by name in public — isn't going away. With a far larger share than iOS, worldwide Android is the standard platform, not iOS
Still, Apple's DNA, more than ever, is profitability by maintaining total control of their platforms. Against conventional marketing wisdom, Apple doesn't give away razors to sell blades: it sells the razors, blades, shave cream, and Dopp bag. It wants control of the whole ecosystem.
Any kind of Android migration would cost Apple not just iPhone sales, but all the ancillary paid services, and companion devices such as Apple Watch and other after-market products.
Apple acts as if it can protect this ecosystem by pretending other options for users don't exist or are significantly worse than iOS or iPad OS. That's just not the perception around the globe, away from Jobs' famed "reality distortion" field generated at Apple Park.
The undistorted reality is, despite Tim Cook's comments, Apple users do want interoperability. Supporting it will keep users loyal to iOS, not frustrated by it.
The bottom line is it's in Apple's self-interest to open the ecosystem a little bit, not because it's profitable, but because it's the right thing to do for all smartphone users. Apple should act sooner rather than later before the walled garden they created becomes another Maginot line.
Michael Gartenberg is a former senior marketing executive at Apple and has covered the company for more than two decades at Gartner, Jupiter Research, and Altimeter Group. He can be reached on Twitter at @Gartenberg.
The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Disclosure: The author owns Apple stock.
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