Apple has a tremendous distribution advantage, but it also has a less than stellar record when it comes to building robust software services. The company’s thinking needs to evolve, because ceding messaging, the primary communication tool of smartphones to another company is likely a decision that the team in Cupertino will look back on with regret.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to assume that most people would acknowledge that our smartphones have earned a different name. For many people, especially younger people, the phone is no longer the primary way they communicate with others. The communication method that has flourished with the rise of smartphones has been messaging. It should come as no surprise that text based messaging really took off once an increasing number of people were using devices equipped with full keyboards.
For many of us, Blackberry Messenger (BBM) felt like the first service that moved beyond basic text messaging. You had a buddy list of contacts, the ability to have nicknames, send messages not tied to SMS limits, and the magical ability to see when your messages had been received, and read. It might sound simple today, but BBM was a beloved messaging service. Anecdotally, BBM was the sole reason many of my friends stayed with Blackberries long after it was clear that the iPhone was a far superior device.
In 2011, as Blackberry was continuing to lose users switching to the iPhone, Apple announced iMessage. Former Blackberry users, and lovers of BBM were thrilled. We imagined a BBM like messaging platform, one that would be improved on a superior device, and enhanced by a thriving developer ecosystem. As I sit here writing this in 2016, there is still so much more that I want from the iMessage experience. Apple can do so much more, and with formidable competitors forming in the messaging space, Apple really should do more.
Think about all the amazing applications we have on our phones. Maps, payments, photos, calendars, music, and so much more. Yet the ecosystem that has helped facilitate all of these innovations, still has a messaging app that looks almost the same as it did when it was announced in 2011. Apple only has to look to Asia’s messaging services to see that iMessage can be so much more. It can be a platform that other businesses are built upon, and that it can continue to profit from like it does from the App Store. In fact, Apple can look right in its own backyard, to Facebook, and the work that David Marcus is doing with the Messenger team. Facebook is building Messenger into an incredibly powerful global platform, one that millions of people will access from their iPhone, a device that has iMessage preinstalled as the default messaging service. It’s hard not think that Apple is blowing a tremendous opportunity by keeping iMessage closed, while also failing to innovate on it itself.