On Friday the New York Times reported a bombshell of a story: By the end of this year or early 2020, Facebook will unify the messaging platform between its three biggest services: Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. As the Times stated:
The services will continue to operate as stand-alone apps, but their underlying technical infrastructure will be unified, said four people involved in the effort. That will bring together three of the world’s largest messaging networks, which between them have more than 2.6 billion users, allowing people to communicate across the platforms for the first time.
The move has the potential to redefine how billions of people use the apps to connect with one another while strengthening Facebook’s grip on users, raising antitrust, privacy and security questions. It also underscores how Mr. Zuckerberg is imposing his authority over units he once vowed to leave alone.
Needless to say, the plans sent users, tech pundits, and privacy and security experts into fits of outrage. No one seems happy about Facebook’s plans with the exception of Mark Zuckerberg and his top executives. And can you blame them? Facebook spent most of the last year embroiled in privacy scandal after privacy scandal. And now Zuckerberg and company want to suck those brave souls who only use WhatsApp or Instagram and refuse to maintain a Facebook account into the Facebook ecosystem through some literal back-end maneuvering?
Despite the blowback, short of regulatory action there’s almost nothing to stop Facebook’s plans. That’s why as soon as the news made the rounds, users of those platforms, especially WhatsApp, began asking what messaging alternative they could jump ship to. And Fast Company delivered with this list of encrypted messaging apps—but we left one out: Apple’s Messages.
Apple’s Messages app didn’t make the list because it only runs on iOS and macOS, and not on Android devices, which are used by the majority of the world’s smartphone users. However, with Facebook’s messaging merger, now is the time for Apple to finally bring Messages to Android.
This isn’t the first time someone has suggested Apple bring Messages to Android. The iPhone maker’s messaging app is widely regarded as one of the best messaging apps ever, thanks to its clean, simple design, its ability to send and receive both encrypted iMessages and regular SMS text messages in the same interface, and its end-to-end encryption. It’s no wonder both Android and iPhone users who have Android-using family and friends have hoped Apple would release Messages for Android.
And it’s also no wonder Apple has yet to do that. After all, Apple’s Messages app is one of the highlights of iOS, and people’s love affair with the app is one of the main reasons they’re reluctant to switch to Android. And that has always been the argument for Apple to not make an Android-compatible Messages app: The company would give up one of the main sticking points that keep people in its ecosystem.
But with Facebook’s announcement, now is the time for Apple to reconsider its iOS-only Messages app. There are two main reasons for this:
First, come late 2019 or early 2020, there will be tens, maybe even hundreds of millions of WhatsApp users looking to jump ship to a new messaging app. These will be users who could stomach Facebook owning WhatsApp–but only so long as it remained as segregated as possible from Facebook’s other platforms. As that segregation will no longer exist, these people will be looking for another reliable, secure messaging service.
And sure, Signal is a great choice. But it lacks the brand-name recognition of other more popular messaging platforms, not to mention the fact that the average mom-and-pop user who actually has heard of Signal probably associates it with vague (albeit important) ideas of “security” or even “Edward Snowden” and, thus, complexity. But everyone, on the other hand, knows the Apple brand and most would probably know right away what an “iMessage” is. In other words, Apple’s Messages is a much more inviting option for the average user.
Apple could use this upcoming mass migration of messaging users as a great branding opportunity. Frame it as a public service: “Your messages in our app stay private. Period. And now it’s available for iOS and Android–because we believe privacy is a fundamental human right no matter what phone you use.”
The goodwill it would generate—and, more importantly, the service and user experience Apple would be able to provide to new users—would have the ancillary benefit of acting as a gateway to other Apple products. In other words, once Android users see how great Apple’s Messages are, they’re more likely be tempted to further move into Apple’s ecosystem and start snapping up iPhones and Macs.
Second, everyone knows Apple’s future lies in services when it comes to revenue growth. I’ve argued this before, but if Apple wanted to bring in boatloads of cash in new services, they could do it at any time by releasing Messages for Android and charging for it. Release the app for free before Facebook’s changes go into effect, and let Android users use the app at no cost for a year. Then do as WhatsApp used to and charge Android users an annual fee to use the app after the first year–say an annual $4.99 in-app subscription. As I’ve previously said, five bucks times a few hundred million Android users on an annual subscription plan brings in a lot of services dough for Apple.
So, will Apple bring Messages to Android? Before this month I would have said the chances of Apple ever bringing Messages to Android were slim to none–let’s say a 10% chance at best. But the first month of this year, I believe, has changed the odds. With Apple doubling down on becoming a services company and the fact that there will now be tens of millions of people looking for a new messaging app by the end of this year–a situation Apple could take advantage of and leverage to its benefit–I now think there’s about a 50% chance Apple’s Message could come to Android. The deciding factor, I believe, will be if enough users demand it (nudge, nudge).