iMessage for Android

Last month, Apple’s Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak were interviewed by Joanna Stern at the Wall Street Journal’s Tech Live event. Stern asked some pretty good questions; Federighi and Joz are too media trained to answer as comprehensively as any of us would like. But there was one exchange I was surprised to see:

Stern: Speaking of — we’re talking a little bit about ecosystems, Craig, and I wanted to read you back an email of yours from 2013. You might have read it before, or written it before. It was to Apple’s Eddy Cue — he’s a colleague of yours — and you said “I’m concerned that iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove an obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones.” Whatever happened to iMessage on Android?

Federighi: I’m not aware of it shipping.

Stern: Yeah. You sent this email, though.

Federighi: I did.

Stern: You sent this email. You felt like, maybe we shouldn’t release this product because other people will buy Android phones.

Federighi: My feeling — and, I think, if one read the whole email, [it was] clear the back-and-forth with Eddy — was if we’re gonna enter a market and go down the road of building an application, we have to be in it in a way that’s gonna make a difference. That we would have a lot of customers, that we would be able to deliver great experiences; this comes at a real cost. And my fear was we weren’t in a position to do that. And, so, if we just shipped an app that really didn’t get critical mass on other platforms, what it would have accomplished is it would have held us back in innovating in all the ways we wanted to innovate in Messages for our customers, and wouldn’t really have accomplished much at all in any other way. And, so, we just felt, you know, pick where you can make a difference. Pick where you’re gonna invest and do it where you’d make a difference. And this seemed like a throwaway that wasn’t going to serve the world honestly.

Today, that email exchange was republished in full in the Internal Tech Emails newsletter, and I was surprised to see Federighi’s memory of that nine year old email was pretty close, albeit less comprehensive. Here is the email before the part Stern quoted:

Do you have any thoughts on how we would make switching to iMessage (from WhatsApp) compelling to masses of Android users who don’t have a bunch of iOS friends? iMessage is a nice app/service, but to get users to switch social networks we’d need more than a marginally better app. (This is why Google is willing to pay $1B — for the network, not for the app).

Cue’s reply:

Keep making a better app. Our app is secure and private today. [Theirs] is not. We also need to be adding features to iMessage to keep it a leader – better group messaging, status, location, payments, etc.

In the nine years since this exchange took place, it is interesting to reflect on Google’s actual performance in messaging and wonder if, maybe, a universally-accessible service from Apple could have found a more welcoming market than Federighi seems to believe. A real glass of ice water to somebody in Hell kind of moment. I appreciate the restraint and the questioning of whether a cross-platform product is worth Apple’s efforts, but I get the feeling many Android users would welcome it.