Nothing, a company founded by Carl Pei, the man who co-founded OnePlus before it, today announced that it “made iMessage for Android,” releasing a video with a faux interview with a journalist to back it up. Except, it didn’t. But don’t worry, we’ll get to why that is soon enough.
First, let’s look into the announcement itself because it sounds pretty great if you’re an iPhone owner looking to ditch Apple and go all-in on Android. Or more specifically, Nothing because that’s where the app is. It isn’t available to everyone who owns an Android phone — you’ll need a Nothing Phone (2). But again, we’ll get to that.
First, let’s look at how the Nothing implementation brings iMessage to the Nothing Phone (2) or, more specifically, most of iMessage. Because some of its best features aren’t supported yet, if ever. But we’ll get to that.
First, let’s dive into how all of this happens in a secure way which means your data is always safe no matter what. In fact, we can’t do that either.
OK, snark aside — but only for a minute — let’s really take a look at what’s going on here. Because on the face of it, it’s impressive. Carl Pei and team announced Nothing Chats, a new messaging platform/app that will let you sign in with your Apple ID and then effectively send and receive iMessages as if you were using an iPhone.
Things like group chats work, to some extent, and you can send and receive full-quality media. You’ll even get the typing indicator that some love so much, too. Although Mr Pei doesn’t — he explains that in the strange announcement video below. But group chats with Android users don’t work, and reactions don’t, either. Maybe in the future, though.
Nothing calls its Nothing Chats app “a game-changing solution,” adding that “if messaging services are dividing phone users, then we want to break those barriers down.” Burn, Apple.
That’s obviously aimed at the way some people seem to obsess over so-called blue and green bubbles. Blue bubbles are those who have iPhones and use iMessage. Green bubbles are those who have Android phones and have to resort to SMS like cave people. Apple could fix that by implementing RCS, but that’s another discussion for another time.
With Apple understandably not keen to open iMessage up to Android users — although the EU might not give it a choice on the matter — it’s left to Nothing to fix things. So long as you buy its latest phone, that is.
So, if Apple doesn’t want iMessage on Android, how has Nothing managed it? Well, it hasn’t. Because it’s farmed that out to a company called Sunbird which already has a waitlist for its service that you can conveniently bypass by buying, you guessed it, a Nothing Phone (2).
“Nothing Chats is an app developed in partnership with Sunbird, which allows you to message other users via blue bubble,” Nothing’s website reads. “We are currently in a Beta phase, which means more features and improvements are coming down the line. Stay in the loop by signing up for updates.” The whole thing goes live on Friday in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the EU.
So how does Sunbird work?
Well, its FAQ section says that “the Sunbird app is fully encrypted while SMS text messages are not.” It goes on to add that “your messages from the Sunbird app will appear as blue bubbles to iPhone and Mac users.” Cool.
Sunbird’s Privacy and Security Standards page has a bit more information, at least. We’re told that it doesn’t collect any message data, nor does it siphon out your content, contacts, or “etc”. “We only collect Sunbird App account information from you to authenticate your account. This means that the company does not store any user data on its servers, nor does it collect any metadata about messages,” it adds.
But I couldn’t find any indication of how it connects to Apple’s iMessage service, nor how it does that using your Apple ID credentials. Worryingly, Marques Brownlee says that the whole thing is”… literally signing in on some Mac Mini in a server farm somewhere, and that Mac mini will then do all of the routing for you to make this happen.” That sounds … bad?
Nothing’s head of PR has told The Verge that those Mac minis are housed in the US and Europe and that they store iCloud credentials as a token “in an encrypted database.” Account information is deleted after two weeks of inactivity, too.
But call me old-fashioned — I’ve been called worse — I just don’t like the idea of any of this. I guess a lot of the issue here is how much you trust Nothing and/or Sunbird. I’ve nothing against either, particularly. But I’ve barely heard of the latter and frankly, I don’t know that I trust any of these companies to do the right thing or be as clued up on data center security as they should be. What happens if someone gains access to one of those Mac mini servers? How readily can they gain access to my iCloud account as a whole?
Maybe these are all questions we’ll get answers to in the future. Maybe we won’t. But for now, I wouldn’t go anywhere near this with a ten-foot pole.
It might not matter anyway
One of the more interesting things about this announcement is that Pei seems to be aware that Apple might not let this fly. Whether or not this whole thing breaks Apple’s terms of service or not, I don’t know. But I find it odd that the announcement came today (Tuesday) but Nothing Chats won’t go live until Friday.
Is Nothing waiting for Apple to throw a legal spanner in the works so it can point a finger and shout “bad guy Apple”? Nothing wouldn’t be the first to do it after all.
As a European, it always strikes me as strange that we’re even having this conversation. The App Store is filled to the gills with apps that offer cross-platform messaging features. If the bubble problem really is a problem, just use WhatsApp.
It’s free, and you don’t have to buy a Nothing Phone (2) to use it.