My iMessage Twitter Thread and My Time as a Green Bubble

I like Twitter threads. For whatever reason, when done right, and a narrative exists, they are quite compelling, and I find myself more focused and reading more vs. skimming an article. Not sure how to explain it but well done Twitter threads can be effective and compelling. Ok, enough about that.

I recently shared a brief thread based on a conversation I had with a boy at my daughters High School. Here is the text of that thread:

Talking with a boy at my daughter’s school, I learned even more about how deep the iMessage lock-in is for US teens.

A brief thread on US Gen Z and the iMessage Lock-In:

I was talking to one of my daughter’s friends, male 16 yrs old, and I noticed he made the switch to iPhone from Android. Having spoken with him before I knew he was an “Android guy” by self-identification, so I was shocked he made the jump.

When I asked him why he made the jump, he sounded a bit remorse. It all came down to being left out of group chats. His quote verbatim, “we would start a new group chat, and the group would realize I was the reason it was green, and they would start another group chat without me.

I had a hard time believing this because often these group chats are used for school, as a part of a class. Kids will have a group chat just for that class with their friends to talk about homework, projects, etc. However, he assured me he was being left out of group chats.

Specifically, he was being left out of group chats because he was on Android and turned the thread green.

Hard to believe sometimes, until you hear it, but the iMessage lock-in is real.

Ultimately there were things he liked about iPhone, but he did miss his Pixel 2.

Thanks to the help of some of my friends with even larger follower bases than myself, this thread has gone quite viral. As we speak, it has over 2.3 million impressions. When a tweet gets that much reach, it generally solicits a lot of comments. To my great joy, the comments in my mentions have been civil and often quite insightful. This thread and the ensuing comments sparked a few thoughts on this subject I thought were worth pointing out.

This is a US Thing Largely
Thanks to Twitter being global, I’ve had many comments pointing out what I already knew, which is iMessages dominance as a whole and not just for US teens, is primarily a US market thing. iOS has solid penetration in the UK, and a number of people from that market commented they see similar dynamics with teens in the UK, but overall, iMessage is a dominant platform in the US and especially among US teens.

Many other parts of the world seem to be standardizing on WhatsApp. Which makes sense, but obviously has implications given it is a Facebook asset, and there are questions of privacy and monetization to address that one could argue may threaten WhatsApp’s dominance in other markets at some point.

Another question here is how much of an opportunity is messaging for Google? To me, this is the most interesting question and a huge lingering question as to why Google has not cracked messaging with a service that is as good as iMessage or WhatsApp. I certainly like the concept behind Telegram, and there may be a broader opportunity for them, but I’d give the edge to the default players like Apple and Google if it came down to it.

I’d love to see Google get more aggressive here since messaging is a critical part of the smartphone experience. But, I’d also like to see Apple take some bold leaps to attract users in other parts of the world better to use iMessage more. Especially from a strategic perspective around lock-in.

The main point here I have taken away is there is an opportunity for Apple and Google outside the US for messaging, but neither has cracked it yet. WhatsApp may very well be vulnerable at some point and if/when that happens, both companies should be ready to strike.

Why is it Difficult Being Green?
Some of you may recall, I had an issue with my iPhone, which made me switch entirely to a Google Pixel 3 and 3A (both of which I really like) for about two weeks. I’ve always liked Android, and there are many things I still like about Android and wish Apple would steal. But, if I’m entirely candid, iMessage is the main reason I went back.

The exact day I switched, I had an experience that allows me to relate to the boy in my thread completely. A group of my friends I’m still close with from High School has a group chat. On that day, one of the guys sent our group a text, and upon my response, they all noticed it went green. It became hostile, in a friend making fun of friends kind of way, but they put up with it. But the point I had not fully embraced about this cross-platform messaging is the features that go away once SMS enters the thread. There are a lot of media-rich and multimedia features in iMessage, and I can understand why kids like those which go away when a thread goes green.

My kids didn’t want to text me anymore, so I had to talk to them in Snapchat. And my partner, Carolina, hated texting me so much she threatened to start calling me instead of texting when we needed to chat, which is pretty much all the time. This was an effective strategy because she knows how much I hate talking on the phone.

Many comments came back at just how much iMessage users hate the color of the green bubbles. I find this fascinating because, while I have zero evidence of this, I’d wager a strong bet the group at Apple who designed this did extensive research on the most off-putting color of green in existence and chose that for the green bubble color. There is some psychology at play here for sure, and that was brilliant by Apple’s iMessage team.

Message Collaboration and The Future of Work
Lastly, I need to make a point about how the current/future of the classroom extends to the future of work. Within US teens, it is a standard part of their school workflow to set up group chats related to a specific class and groups they work within that class. Discussions here can range but are largely related to the class and the homework/project work associated. These chats often expire once the class is over and I’m told this is common in college as well.

Getting to observe first hand how US teens use apps and services for their personal and education-based workflows is extremely helpful in understanding the base of experience they will bring to the workforce once they enter. Messaging being critical as a part of the workflows and collaboration practices is a key point. The fact it’s happening in a messenger and not something like Slack or Teams is interesting but could be a natural carry over, or not, once they enter the workplace.

When I started my analyst career in 2001, I spent a great deal of time studying millennials. It was clear then millennials would shake up the workforce once they moved on from college. Now being a parent of Gen Zers and studying Gen Z, it is clear this group will shake up the enterprise even more once they enter it.

How messaging platforms evolve will be crucial, and I still see a great deal of opportunity there ahead.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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